Legal Aid and Advisory Authority
The Legal and Advisory Authority (LAAA) is a Statutory Body established to provide affordable legal advice and assistance to members of the public who are proven eligible (i.e. of small or moderate means). LAAA offers legal support and representation and meets the costs wholly or in part by using funds provided by Parliament. Applicants can access legal aid and advice on all general areas of Law and Applications for the Grant of Letters of Administration or Probate where the value of the estate does not exceed $100,000.00 in value.
Legal Aid, advice and representation in Court are provided by Legal Officers and Attorneys- at-Law in private practice who have registered to be the panel of attorneys attached to the Authority. Legal Aid and advice may be attained in matters such as:
Criminal Law -
- Indictable offences- offences which may be tried by a Judge and a Jury;
- Summary offences- usually criminal matters before the Magistrate's court;
- All offences in a court of Summary Jurisdiction which involves a child or young person;
- Proceedings before a Coroner's Court i.e. inquests touching the death of a person.
Civil Law -
- Domestic Violence
- Possession/ Eviction/ Ejectment Proceedings (Including Matters between Landlords and Tenants in residential agreements)
- Petty Civil Court Matters
- High Court proceedings
- Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration where the value of the Estate does not exceed one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).
Legal aid is not provided for ‘defamation election petitions’ and ‘traffic matters’.
Eligibility for Legal Aid
An applicant's eligibility for Legal Aid is dependent on a number of factors. To be approved for Legal Aid in Civil High Court matters the Authority must be satisfied that:
- The applicant has reasonable grounds for taking, defending, continuing or being a party to any proceedings;
- The applicant does not possess nor is entitled to disposable capital that exceeds a maximum value of $5000.00*;
- The applicant's disposable income does not exceed $7000.00* annually after certain deductions are taken out.
*These criteria are being increased presently with the passage of the Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill 2012.
In criminal matters, approval for Legal Aid is dependent on the discretion of the Judge or Magistrate before whom the matter is being heard.
Payment for Services
Legal Officers are available at various locations throughout Trinidad and Tobago. In cases where an attorney appears on behalf of, or represents the applicant in a legal matter, the applicant is not required to pay the Attorney. However depending on an applicant's means particularly in civil High Court matters, the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority may request from the applicant a small contribution that is paid directly to the Authority. In such cases, an official receipt is issued for the amount paid.
- The applicant must collect and can receive assistance in filling out a simple form at any of the offices of LAAA on the specified days.
- A fee of TT$10.00 is charged for first time applicants and a receipt given.
- The applicant is then interviewed by a Legal Officer to determine whether he/she may be eligible for Legal Aid.
- An eligible applicant receives an affidavit which he/she takes before the Justice of the Peace or a Commissioner of Affidavits, to swear that the information given is true and correct. A TT$2.50 stamp is usually required to go with the application.
- In criminal matters either High Court or Magistrate's Court, the application form (Form IX) is left with the Court.
- In civil actions an applicant must return the application (Form I), together with certain required documents to the office where it was obtained, after which an investigator shall interview the applicant.
- An investigator will then examine the documents and, thereafter, may request further information. The investigator will then visit the applicant at his/her home and submit a report on his/her findings to the Authority.