If you need legal assistance, you have the right to hire a lawyer of your choice at any point during the trial. You have a right to free legal aid only if you can't afford it and if the court process would be unjust without a lawyer’s help.

Right to a lawyer

You have a right to hire a lawyer at any stage of civil proceedings. This means that your lawyer can represent you at all court hearings and submit all the documents that you, as a party to the case, are required to submit.  

State-paid lawyer

Human rights demand that the state must provide you with a free lawyer if:

  • you cannot afford to hire one and
  • if a fair hearing cannot be otherwise guaranteed 

This is to ensure that you are not put in a worse situation than your opponent and that you can participate in the proceedings meaningfully. 

example You will be entitled to a lawyer if your case is so complex that without the help of a lawyer you cannot meaningfully participate in the trial and understand what is happening in your case. 

Several aspects will be assessed to determine whether you need a lawyer in your case. These are: 

  • the complexity of the proceedings
  • your capacity to represent yourself effectively
  • what is at stake for you at the trial

Estonian law

In Estonia, you can only receive state legal aid if you need it to ensure your meaningful participation in the proceedings and if:

  • You are unable to pay for competent legal services due to your financial situation. 
  • If you are unable to pay for legal advice because of a sudden decline in your financial situation. For example, due to accidents, natural disasters, and other situations beyond your control.
  • If you are on full support from the state or local government. For example, if you are in prison or a minor placed in an orphanage. 

In Estonia, there are also a number of claims for which free legal aid will not be given. The grounds for refusal to grant state legal aid are listed in article 7 of the State Legal Aid Act.

How to apply for legal aid

To get a state-paid lawyer, you must file a request for legal aid to the court conducting proceedings in the case or the court that would be competent to conduct proceedings in the case.  You must file the request in a timely manner and provide full and truthful information about yourself and your situation.

How to complain

If you are not entitled to a lawyer under national law, but you cannot participate meaningfully in the court procedure without a lawyer, your right to a fair trial may be violated. If you genuinely cannot afford a lawyer and you cannot understand and participate in the trial because it is legally too complex, you should still ask the court in all instances to provide you with a lawyer free of charge. Even if you receive a refusal, you will be able to complain later about a potential violation of your rights in other national or international human rights institutions.


Last updated 01/05/2019