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Welcome to Legal Aid factsheet

We can help you with your legal problem

We provide free legal advice in most areas of the law, and in some situations, we may be able to provide a lawyer to represent you in court.

We are an independent organisation paid for by government. Our lawyers provide impartial and confidential advice that fully protects your privacy.

Australian laws give you rights and protect you. They do not exist just to punish someone who is found guilty of a crime. These laws apply to everyone in Australia even if you are not a permanent resident or Australian citizen.

Laws affect almost every area of your life and sometimes problems arise where you need to know your rights. For example, someone might be discriminating against you or taking unfair advantage of you, or they might be threatening or harming a member of your family. If you have a legal problem like this you may need to speak to a lawyer.

A lawyer can advise you about your rights, and help prepare any documents you need to resolve your legal problem.

Phone advice

You can get advice over the telephone by calling LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529. If you want to speak to staff at LawAccess NSW in your own language, you must call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 131 450 (9am to 5pm) and ask the interpreter to call on your behalf. This interpreter service is free and confidential.

Face-to-face advice

Legal Aid provides free legal advice to all people. If you need face-to-face legal advice, you can visit one of our 21 offices. Call 131 450 and ask your Interpreter to connect you to the Legal Aid office nearest to you. Otherwise, look in the phone book under Legal Aid or on our website.

If you need an interpreter on the day of your appointment with Legal Aid, let us know this when you make your appointment. We will arrange an interpreter for free.

If you are going to court and need an interpreter, ask your legal aid lawyer to arrange one.

Preparing for your interview

Bring any papers you may have about your problem. It may be useful to make notes about your problem before your interview.

Grants of legal aid

If you need more than legal advice, we may be able to provide you with a lawyer to help with your case. This is called getting a grant of legal aid. If you are granted legal aid, you may be helped by a legal aid lawyer or, in some cases, a private lawyer paid for by Legal Aid. Sometimes we can’t help you directly because we re helping another person in your dispute. In these cases, we will arrange for a private lawyer to advise and represent you. It is important that both parties receive independent legal advice and this means that the lawyers acting for you must not be part of the same organisation or firm.

To apply for a grant of legal aid, you must complete an application form. You can get a form from any one of our offices and from duty lawyers at local courts. The form is used to assess:

  • your financial means (your income and what you own)
  • the merit of your case (whether it is likely to succeed and whether the cost can be justified)
  • whether you meet Legal Aid NSW policy guidelines.

If you get a grant of legal aid, it is not free. You will be asked to pay a contribution. The amount depends on your financial situation and what kind of legal problem you have.

Different kinds of law

There are different kinds of law. The three main areas are called civil law, family law and criminal law.

Civil law

Civil law deals with disputes between individuals or between an individual and the government. You an use civil laws to protect yourself when you have been wronged by someone else’s actions. For example, if somebody owes you money and refuses to pay the debt, you can take that person to court.

If you have been discriminated against by someone, you can complain about that. In some cases, if you win your civil case in court, you may be paid money to make up for the wrong that was done to you.

Family law

Family law deals with matters like separation, divorce, what happens to your children after a divorce and to any property you own.

Criminal law

Criminal law deals with disputes between the state and individuals. The principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty in court is a very important part of criminal law in Australia. Just because you are charged does not mean that you are guilty.

The Local Court is the most common criminal court. Local courts deal with the less serious crimes. If you are going to the Local Court about a criminal matter, you can speak to a duty lawyer. Duty lawyers are available at Local Courts every day. If this is your first time in court and you want to see a duty lawyer, you should be at court by 9am. If your case has been adjourned or you are pleading ‘not guilty’, you should contact a Legal Aid office well before your hearing. Legal Aid NSW may also be able to help you if you are appearing in the District Court, Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeal. Our lawyers can help you if you are in custody and want to apply to the Supreme Court in Sydney for bail.

Special Services

Our special services help people with particular kinds of legal problems.

  • The Child Support Service assists parents in child support matters. Call 9633 9916 or 1800 451 784 (outside Sydney).
  • Children’s Legal Service advises and represents children involved in criminal cases in the Children’s Courts. Anyone under the age of 18 who finds themselves in trouble with the police can call our Youth Hotline on 1800 10 18 10. We also advise and represent children and parents involved in child care cases. These matters usually come before the court when the Department of Community Services makes an application.
  • Mental Health Advocacy Service assists people with mental health problems, their family and friends with legal issues relating to mental health. Tel. 9745 4277.
  • Prisoners Legal Service assists prisoners in gaols. Tel. 9219 5888 (reverse charges).

If you live in the country

If you live far away from a Legal Aid office, you can call 1300 888 529, talk to a registrar at your local court or see a private lawyer who does legal aid work.  

Who else can help you?

All these services are free.

  • A registrar in most local courts can give free legal assistance and will help you fill out legal forms. Contact your local court (see Local Courts in the phone book) to find out when you can see the registrar.
  • Community Justice Centres. Disputes between individuals do not have to end up in court. If you are in a dispute with a neighbour, someone at work, or a family member or friend, a Community Justice Centre can provide free mediation. To find a centre near you, phone 1800 990 777 or look in the white pages of the phone book.
  • Community Legal Centres give free legal advice and provide help with problems not covered by Legal Aid.
    Tel: 9212 7333 or look in the white pages of the phone book under Legal Centres.
  • Immigration Advice and Rights Centre provides advice to clients on most areas of immigration law, including help with lodging applications and appeals. For advice: Tel: 9262 3833; Other inquiries: Tel: 9279 4300.
  • Immigrant Women’s Speakout provides services to migrant and refugee women in the areas of domestic violence and employment. Tel: 9635 8022.
  • Libraries. Many libraries have Legal Information Access Centres that provide free information about the law.
  • Migrant Resource Centres. These centres provide information, assistance and settlement support to migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants. Call 1300 888 529 or 131 450 to find the centre closest to you.
  • Private lawyers. The Law Society of NSW can refer you to private lawyers in your area. It can also provide information about private lawyers who do legal aid work. Contact the Law Society’s Community Referral Service on 9926 0300 or 1300 888 529.
  • Refugee Advice and Casework Service provides advice to people applying for a refugee visa. Tel: 9211 4001.
  • Telephone Interpreter Service Ask for an interpreter in your language. This service is free. Tel: 131 450.
  • Welfare Rights Centre advises people on their rights and entitlements in all social security matters and assists in appeals against Centrelink decisions. Tel: 9211 5300 or 1800 226 028.

Useful internet links

You can find more information on the internet.

If a member of your family speaks English and can use the internet, ask them to visit these internet sites. These sites have information about the law in English and many other languages.

You can use computers in libraries and community centres for free or at cheap rates.

This same information is available on an audiovisual CD. Contact Legal Aid 9219 5028 or visit our publications weblink to order your free CD or a print copy of this brochure.

Feb 2010