If you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, you can get legal aid (financial help for lawyers fees). You will have to pass a 'means test', which means you have to show that you earn less than an amount fixed by the Legal Aid Board. This amount varies if you are single or married and also changes with time. You also have to show that you don't have any other 'liquid assets', such as money in a savings account, which could be used to pay for your legal fees. You can also only get legal aid for certain types of cases.
You cannot get legal aid:
- For a criminal case if you are going to plead guilty.
- For traffic offences, including drunk driving cases.
- For commercial crime charges such as fraud.
- For drug dealing charges.
- On your third or more criminal charge for the same kind of offence.
- On a case where you have failed to pay a debt in instalments as ordered by the court.
- On a case where your estate is going to be administered because you can't pay your debts.
- If you are suing the Legal Aid Board itself for malpractice.
- For a maintenance matter that can be decided by a maintenance officer.
- Where you are applying to become insolvent (bankrupt) or have your estate administered.
- Where you are suing for money (damages) for relationship-related claims such as defamation, breach of promise to marry, infringement of dignity or privacy, seduction, adultery, and alienation of affection (where you want to sue someone who has caused the person to whom you were engaged to break off the engagement).
You can get legal aid for divorce cases, but NOT if:
- There is a reasonable possibility that you might get together with your spouse again.
- The director of the Board believes there hasn't been enough of an attempt by you and your spouse to come to an agreement.
- You used legal aid before to sue for divorce but then decided not to go ahead with the divorce.
- There are no children involved in the divorce.
You can get legal aid for a labour matter:
- If you are claiming unfair dismissal (you have been fired unfairly), as long as your claim is made within the time limits set by the Labour Relations Act.
- To demand a merit report. However, legal aid will be refused if there are good reasons to believe you are not taking up a job on purpose or that you resigned from a job in order to be granted legal aid.
You can also get legal aid for appeals on all these types of cases listed, whether criminal or civil (cases where you are suing or being sued). For appeals, the director of the Board must also believe that you have a reasonable chance of success.
Go to a Legal Aid Board Branch Office or, if there is not one in your area, to the nearest magistrates' court to enquire about legal aid. All magistrates' courts have a legal aid officer who will help you with your legal aid enquiries.
The legal aid officer will check that you satisfy the means test and whether your matter falls within the scope of the guidelines set out by the Legal Aid Board. If you qualify, then you will be sent to an attorney, who will receive what is called a 'legal aid instruction' for your case. That attorney will then deal with your case. Attorneys do have a right to refuse a legal aid instruction, but they normally do not refuse. If they do refuse, a legal aid instruction can be made out to another attorney.
Please note that the Legal Aid Board is not a free legal advice service. It provides financial support for legal matters to the very poor who cannot afford legal fees. However, you can get legal advice and help from law clinics attached to universities, and very often these clinics also take legal aid instructions from the Legal Aid Board. In Stellenbosch, the two organisations are in the same building.
Legal Aid Board Offices (also called Justice Centres)
2nd Floor, Melofin Centre, Old Klipfontein Road
Tel: 021 697 5252
Fax: 021 697 5316
Cape Town Branch:
5th Floor, Nedbank Building, St George's Mall, Cape Town
Tel: 021 426 4126
Fax: 021 426 5766
1st Floor, Eikestad Mall, Stellenbosch
Tel: 021 882 9221
Fax: 021 882 9237
60 Russel Street, Worcester
Tel: 023 348 4040
Fax: 023 348 4051
Legal Aid Board Head Office:
Tel: 011 877 2000
Fax: 011 877 2222
Helpdesk: 086 1053 425
University Legal Aid Clinics:
University of the Western Cape (UWC) Legal Aid Clinic
Old Library Building
University of the Western Cape Campus
Modderdam Road, Bellville
Directions to UWC
Tel: 021 959 2756
Fax: 021 959 2747
University of Cape Town (UCT) Legal Aid Clinic
Room 4.39 Wilfred and Jules Kramer Law Building
Middle Campus, University of Cape Town
1 Stanley Road, Rondebosch
About UCT Legal Aid Clinic
Tel: 021 650 3551
Fax: 021 650 5665
University of Stellenbosch (US) Legal Aid Clinic
44 Banghoek Road, Stellenbosch
About US Legal Aid Clinic
Tel: 021 808 3432 / 3925
Fax: 021 808 3720