Law Aid: an introduction

Law Aid is a non-profit charitable trust which was established in 1996 by the Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar Counsel with the backing of the Victorian Department of Justice.

The purpose of the Trust is to provide assistance in civil litigation within Victoria to those who would otherwise be unable to afford its cost and whose lawyers are prepared to act on a “no win, no fee” basis.

The three guiding principles for the establishment of Law Aid were and remain:

  1. its establishment and operation be the responsibility of the private legal profession represented by the Law Institute of Victoria and Victoria Bar Counsel;
  2. the involvement of the State Government be limited to providing capital funding and ongoing monitoring to ensure Law Aid’s accountability; and
  3. Law Aid be financially viable and self-sustaining.

Law Aid funds payment of all disbursements apart from the fees of lawyers.  Lawyers (both solicitors and barristers) acting for assisted litigants must agree to withhold requirements for payment of services until the successful completion of proceedings and agree to waive all professional costs if the outcome of proceedings is unsuccessful.

Law Aid received approximately 280 applications for assistance each year of which approximately 93% are granted.

Historically Law Aid has given consideration to the following matter types:

  • substantial personal injury claims;
  • claims against institutions involving oppressive behaviour;
  • loss or destruction of property claims;
  • professional negligence claims; and
  • testators’ family maintenance claims.

By no means do the Trustees see these categories as static and are keen to explore other types of litigation in order to achieve the aim of providing access to justice provided that the terms of the Law Aid Deed and guiding principles are met.

In order to be financially viable and self-sustaining, Law Aid charges an application fee (currently $150) and, if there is a successful outcome, it recovers the disbursements which it has paid and a fund fee which in general terms is currently 5% of the net amount to be received by the Applicant after payment of statutory charges (such as Medicare and Centrelink), legal costs and any disbursements (including those funded by Law Aid).

The Trustees meet monthly to consider applications but also consider urgent applications between meetings.  The considerations taken into account by the Trustees in determining applications are the financial circumstances of the Applicant and the merits of the proposed litigation.