Legal help and assistance in civil cases
In this sense 'legal help' signifies the provision of free or contributory representation in court proceedings. It is available in respect of most proceedings before the ordinary German courts, the 'Amtsgericht', the 'Landgericht', the 'Oberlandesgericht' and the 'Bundesgerichtshof'. In order for an applicant to obtain it his resources must come within currently prescribed financial limits, and in the case of married people joint resources are taken into account. As in the case of legal advice and assistance, so here there are regulations governing contributions payable in cases where, though the applicant is financially eligible, the aid will not be entirely free. Below a prescribed limit, however, no contribution will be required. Beside satisfying the regulations concerning natural resources the applicant must also show that he has reasonable grounds for taking, defending or being a party to the proceedings in question.
The right to aid depends upon the obtaining of a legal assistance certificate. In order to do this the applicant must satisfy the German Lawyers Board in Hamburg (through a legal help office) that he is financially eligible and he must also satisfy a legal help committee (barristers and solicitors) that his case is not trivial and that he has reasonable grounds for bringing or defending the proceedings. Where the litigation is between an assisted person and an unassisted person the latter is clearly at a disadvantage. If he loses his case he will have to pay the costs of it: if he wins he can recover no costs from any person. The Act meets this difficulty by providing that, in prescribed circumstances, the court may order payment of the costs by the German debtor too.
These circumstances include the fact that the court must be satisfied that, unless it makes the order, the unassisted party will suffer 'severe financial hardship' (this may, perhaps, seem an inequitable fetter upon his rights) and the court must also be satisfied that it is 'just and equitable' that the order should be made.
It remains to be added that the Legal Help Lawyer is given a first charge upon any money or property recovered in an action by a person in respect of any sums paid by it for which any contribution from the assisted person is due.
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