Legal aid in civil and commercial matters

Directive 2003/8/EC — improved access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid

It seeks to:

improve access to justice in cross-border civil cases;
establish EU-wide rules on legal aid;
make sure people who cannot afford legal help have access to it;
encourage cooperation on legal aid between EU countries.

It has applied since 31 January 2003. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 30 November 2004. The directive does not apply in Denmark.


This directive covers all civil matters, including:

consumer protection.
It gives people who cannot afford legal representation the right to legal aid. It is for EU citizens and nationals of non-EU countries living in the EU.

Legal aid may include:

legal advice,
legal assistance and representation in court,
exemption from court fees,
exemption from certain fees in international cases (e.g. interpretation, translation, travel).
In addition, the directive introduces rules on processing applications.


National authorities must:
make sure applicants understand how applications are processed;
explain why they reject an application;
let applicants appeal against rejection.

To speed up applications, EU countries must provide the European Commission with a list of:
authorities that can send and receive applications
the languages in which they accept applications.

Standard application forms

Commission Decision 2004/844/EC establishes a standard form for legal aid applications.
Commission Decision 2005/630/EC sets out the standard form for sending legal aid applications between EU countries.
EU countries must ensure that the public and professional circles are informed via the European Judicial Network.

EU countries can make more generous arrangements for legal aid applicants if they want.


In 2000, the European Commission published a Green Paper on legal aid in civil matters with a view to taking stock of difficulties encountered by cross-border litigants and proposing solutions.
The Commission initiative was all the more necessary since existing conventions on the matter (the 1977 Strasbourg Agreement on the Transmission of Legal Aid Applications andthe Hague Convention to Facilitate the International Access to Justice, signed in 1980) had not been ratified by all EU countries.


Council Directive 2003/8/EC of 27 January 2003 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes (OJ L 26, 31.1.2003, pp. 41-47)

Successive amendments and corrections to Directive 2003/8/EC have been incorporated in to the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

Commission Decision 2004/844/EC of 9 November 2004 establishing a form for legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes (OJ L 365, 10.12.2004, pp. 27-34)

Commission Decision 2005/630/EC of 26 August 2005 establishing a form for the transmission of legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC (OJ L 225, 31.8.2005, pp. 23-27)


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