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Common minimum rules relating to legal aid

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Common minimum rules relating to legal aid

The purpose of this Directive is to improve access to justice in cross-border civil cases by establishing common minimum rules relating to legal aid; to ensure that appropriate legal aid is granted, under certain conditions, to persons who cannot meet the cost of proceedings on account of their financial situation; to facilitate compatibility of national laws in this matter and to provide for cooperation mechanisms between the authorities of the Member States.


Council Directive 2003/8/EC of 27 January 2003 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes.


At the Tampere European Council in 1999, the Member States undertook to establish common measures to remove all obstacles to the smooth operation of civil procedures. In 2000 the Commission presented a Green Paper on legal aid in civil matters with a view to taking stock of difficulties encountered by cross-border litigants and proposing solutions. The Green Paper met with differing reactions underscoring the need to put forward a proposal providing for cooperation and information mechanisms between the Member States.

The Commission initiative is all the more necessary since existing conventions on the matter (the Strasbourg Agreement of 1977 on the Transmission of Legal Aid Applications and the Hague Convention to Facilitate the International Access to Justice, signed in 1980) have not been ratified by all the Member States and remain somewhat underused.

This Decision covers all civil procedures (including commercial law, employment law, and consumer protection law), irrespective of the court to which the case is referred.

It gives persons who do not have sufficient resources the right to legal aid (whether European Union citizens or nationals of third countries lawfully residing in a Member State).

Legal aid includes:

  • the services of a lawyer or other person entitled by law to represent parties in the courts;
  • exemption from the cost of proceedings;
  • cover, under certain conditions, for the additional costs related to the cross-border nature of the dispute (interpretation, translation, travel costs etc.).

In addition, the Decision provides for the introduction of rules on the processing of applications, in particular:

  • National authorities must ensure that processing of applications is as transparent as possible.
  • Where applications are rejected, the reasons for rejection must be given;
  • Provision must be made for appeals against rejection.

In order to ensure swift processing of applications:

  • Member States must provide the Commission with a list of the authorities empowered to send and receive applications as well as the list of official languages in which they accept applications;
  • The Commission, assisted by the committee provided for by Council Regulation (EC) No 1348/2000, will establish a standard form;
  • Provision will be made for an emergency procedure for legal aid applications made by applicants not residing in the Member State of the competent court.

Legal aid will be granted where disputes are settled via extra-judicial procedures under certain conditions.

Member States must ensure that the public and professional circles are fully informed via the European Judicial Network in Civil and Commercial Matters. In addition, they must adopt the provisions needed to implement this directive no later than 1 January 2004. They will forthwith inform the Commission thereof.

This Decision will not prevent Member States from making more favourable arrangements for legal aid applicants.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2003/8/EC



OJ L 26 of 31.01.03


Commission Decision 2005/630/EC of 26 August 2005 establishing a form for the transmission of legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC [Official Journal L 225 of 31.08.2005].

Commission Decision 2004/844/EC of 9 November 2004 establishing a form for legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes [Official Journal L 365 of 10.12.2004]. This decision establishes the standard form for submitting legal aid applications provided for by Directive 2003/8/EC.

Last updated: 13.09.2005