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Special circumstances scheme

The Attorney-General's Department may help people in special circumstances with the legal cost of Australian or overseas proceedings.

Assistance under this scheme will only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances.

The department will not generally grant funding:

  • to people who can meet their legal costs without incurring serious financial difficulty, or
  • for costs incurred before an application is made.

On 2 July 2018, the Attorney-General announced changes to the Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance 2012. This included revising the special circumstances scheme:

Special circumstances

Special circumstances include (but are not limited to):

  • where no other scheme of legal financial assistance applies, but there is a moral obligation on the Commonwealth to make a grant
  • where a statutory scheme of legal financial assistance applies, but produces an unintended, anomalous, inequitable or otherwise unacceptable result
  • cases where an individual – who has a continuing connection with Australia – is being, or will be, prosecuted for a criminal offence overseas for which the individual may be punished by a term of imprisonment equal to or longer than 20 years, and the Attorney-General is satisfied that the exceptional circumstances of the case justify the provision of financial assistance by the Commonwealth (new paragraph, commenced on 2 July 2018).

In addition, the Attorney-General may help a person with their legal costs if:

Special considerations

From 2 July 2018, the following considerations must be taken into account by the decision maker when considering applications:

  • whether the applicant has been the subject of criminal proceedings in Australia or overseas, and – if so – the gravity, nature and outcome of those proceedings
  • if the person is overseas, the circumstances under which they departed Australia.

Applicants must provide the application form with:

  • a downloaded completed National Police Check application form 
  • if applicable, an overseas penal clearance certificate (also known as an overseas police check) from each country in which the applicant has resided for 12 months or more in the previous 10 years and/or ever been charged with a criminal offence.

More information about obtaining  required overseas penal certificates is available on page one of the application form. Country-specific information is also available from the Department of Home Affairs website.

Further information about special considerations is available on page 21 of the Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance 2012 .

Decision maker

From 2 July 2018, the Attorney-General is the decision maker for overseas criminal matter applications under both the scheme for overseas criminal matters involving the death penalty and the revised special circumstances scheme. The department is the decision maker for applications under the special circumstances scheme that are not overseas criminal matters.

How to apply

The type of application form you use will depend on whether you are applying for assistance for an Australian legal matter or overseas legal matter.

Australian legal matter

Download an application form and a National Police Check form and email the completed copies to finass@ag.gov.au with the required attachments.

If you cannot send your application by email, contact the Financial Assistance Section.

Overseas legal matter

Download an application form and a National Police Check form and email the completed copies to finass@ag.gov.au with the required attachments, including any overseas police check penal certificates if applicable.

If you cannot send your application by email, contact the Financial Assistance Section.

Assessment timeframe

Complete applications will be assessed within 28 days. Incomplete applications will not be assessed. You will be notified if your application is incomplete.

Assessment of costs

Monetary limits apply to certain disbursements. More information is available in the department's cost assessment policy:

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