Commonwealth legal financial assistance
The Attorney-General's Department administers a range of non-statutory and statutory legal financial assistance schemes. Each scheme has a different purpose, but all schemes are generally targeted towards helping people who could not otherwise afford to pay for their legal costs.
Depending on the scheme, funding can be provided for legal representation costs and disbursements (disbursements are costs other than the fees paid to be represented by a solicitor or a barrister). Some schemes are limited to disbursements only.
The department cannot help people facing criminal charges in Australia or with legal matters under state or territory laws. For these matters, contact your local legal aid office or community legal centre.
What assistance is available?
Payment of cost certificates
The department administers the payment of costs certificates issued by federal courts. To apply for reimbursement under a costs certificate visit the Payment of costs certificates page.
Legal financial assistance schemes
The department provides legal financial assistance under non-statutory and statutory schemes.
- Commonwealth public interest and test cases scheme
- Disbursement support scheme
- Overseas child abduction scheme
- Scheme for overseas criminal matters involving the death penalty (formerly the serious overseas criminal matters scheme)
- Special circumstances scheme
Changes to non-statutory schemes
On 2 July 2018, the Attorney-General announced changes to the non-statutory schemes under the Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance 2012 . These changes include replacing the serious overseas criminal matters scheme with the scheme for overseas criminal matters involving the death penalty, revising the special circumstances scheme, and providing for additional new criteria across all non-statutory schemes.
The changes are as follows:
- The serious overseas criminal matters scheme has been replaced by the scheme for overseas criminal matters involving the death penalty which will only apply to death penalty cases.
- Individuals with a continuing connection to Australia who may be punished by a term of imprisonment equal to or longer than 20 years (but not the death penalty) may be eligible for financial assistance under the modified special circumstances scheme if the Attorney-General is satisfied that the exceptional circumstances of the case justify the provision of financial assistance by the Commonwealth.
- For applications under all non-statutory schemes, the following new criteria must be addressed by the applicant:
- whether the applicant has been the subject of criminal proceedings in Australia or overseas, and – if so – the gravity and nature of the conduct alleged against the applicant and the outcome of those proceedings
- if the applicant is overseas, the circumstances in which the applicant departed Australia.
- All applications under non-statutory schemes must now be accompanied by a completed Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check Form
- 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, and for applications under all other schemes.
Further information may be found in the Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance 2012, and on each of the scheme pages.
- Australian Security Intelligence Organisation scheme
- Native title officer scheme
- Native title respondent funding scheme
The changes to the Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance 2012 announced on 2 July 2018 do not affect these statutory schemes.
Other legal financial assistance schemes
The department also provides legal financial assistance under the following statutory schemes. Information on how to apply is at the bottom of this page.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, section 30:
The Attorney-General may help a person who is:
- seeking a declaration under the Act
- likely to be adversely affected by a declaration under the Act
- being charged with an offence under the Act.
- Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, sections 54C and 74A
The Attorney-General may help a person appearing before a commission on behalf of Indigenous Australians to claim traditional lands or adjoining waters in the Northern Territory.
- Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, section 30A:
The Attorney-General may reimburse a party in proceedings where the Attorney-General intervenes in the review of a decision by the Tribunal.
- Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, section 69:
The Attorney-General may help a party for the review of a decision before the Tribunal, or to appeal a decision by the Tribunal.
- Australian Crime Commission Act 2002, section 27:
The Attorney-General may help a person summoned to give evidence before the Australian Crime Commission. The Attorney-General may also help a person challenging a decision made under this Act before the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court.
- Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, section 46PU:
The Attorney-General may help a person commencing proceedings for unlawful discrimination in the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court.
- Competition and Consumer Act 2010, section 170:
The Attorney-General may help people involved in proceedings before the Federal Court, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Australian Competition Tribunal under certain parts of the Act.
- Defence Force Discipline Appeals Regulations 1957, regulation 11:
The Attorney-General may help people appearing before the Defence Force Discipline Appeals Tribunal if the tribunal orders that legal assistance be granted.
- Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009, sections 324(1) and 326(1), (4) and (5):
The Attorney-General may help parties (other than organisations or branches of organisations) to proceedings before the Federal Court relating to registered organisations.
- Freedom of Information Act 1982, section 66:
The Attorney-General may reimburse a person where:
- they successfully appeal a decision made under this Act before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal
- the Tribunal makes a recommendation for their costs to be paid by the Commonwealth.
- Judiciary Act 1903, section 69(3):
The Attorney-General may help defendants in trials of federal indictable offences if a Justice in Chambers or a Supreme Court Judge certifies that counsel be appointed.
- Judiciary Act 1903, section 78B(4):
The Attorney-General may reimburse parties for additional costs caused by an adjournment of proceedings to allow for notice of a constitutional matter to be given to the Commonwealth or State Attorney-General.
- Jurisdiction of Courts (Cross-vesting) Act 1987, subsection 6(7):
The Attorney-General may reimburse parties for additional costs caused by an adjournment of proceedings in a Supreme Court to allow for notice of a special federal matter to be given to the Commonwealth or State Attorney-General.
- Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006, section 103:
The Attorney-General may help a person summoned to attend a hearing before the Integrity Commissioner. The Attorney-General may also help people being represented by a lawyer at a hearing with the consent of the Integrity Commissioner.
- Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006, section 221:
The Attorney-General may assist persons to challenge a decision made under this Act before the Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court.
- Privacy Act 1988, section 63:
The Attorney-General may help:
- a respondent, who is not an agency or the principal of an agency, in privacy matters where a tax file number complaint is dismissed
- a party to a proceeding for the enforcement of a determination of the Privacy Commissioner before the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court.
- Proceeds of Crime Act 1987, section 102:
The Attorney-General may help people affected by proceedings seeking forfeiture orders or restraining orders against the property of a person convicted of, or charged with, a federal indictable offence.
This scheme only applies to matters arising before the commencement of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 on 1 January 2003.
- War Crimes Act 1945, section 19:
The Attorney-General may help people charged with war crimes committed in Europe during World War II who are being brought to trial in criminal courts in Australia.
The Attorney-General's Department will not generally grant funding:
- to people who can meet their legal costs without incurring serious financial difficulty
- for costs incurred before an application is made, unless the scheme allows for reimbursement.
How to apply
Download the following application form and email a completed copy to firstname.lastname@example.org with the required attachments:
If you are applying under a non-statutory scheme, you also need to complete a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check Form.
Please submit the Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check Formdirectly to the department along with your completed application. Do not submit the form to any other organisation, as the department will submit it on your behalf as part of the assessment of your application.
If you cannot send your application by email, contact the Financial Assistance Section.
Complete applications will be assessed within 28 days. Incomplete applications will not be assessed. You will be notified if your application is incomplete.
Seeking a review of a decision
If you disagree with a decision (or any part of it), you may request a review in writing.
If a review is sought, the whole application will be considered by a decision maker of the department who did not make the original decision. The written request must explain why you believe that the decision was wrong and must be received by the department within 28 days of the date of the letter.
More information on how to seek a review, including the Review Request Form is available to download below:
Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance
The Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance are available to download below:
The department treats all applications for legal financial assistance as confidential, as explained in the following privacy collection notice (Australian Privacy Principle 5):
Information for lawyers – invoices
If assistance is granted for legal representation, the department is to be invoiced directly, by email to email@example.com.
Complete invoices will be paid in approximately 28 days. Incomplete invoices will be returned without being assessed.
More information is available in the department's cost assessment policy:
1800 117 995
02 6141 4770
Outside Australia: +61 2 6141 4770