People living in Spain, even if they do not have official resident status, are entitled to confidential Legal Aid at no charge if they think they might end up having to make a complaint against somebody via the justice system where a lawyer would be needed, including against the public authorities or government. They are also entitled if they find themselves facing possible legal proceedings against them in a court. For example, problems with rejection of an application for residency, a disputed fine, prospect of being evicted or a marital or family issue.
This is a well-established Legal Aid system, backed up by the Spanish Constitution and administered by the different, local Colegios de Abogados (Lawyers or Bar Associations) across Spain. It is known as ‘Asistencia Jurídica Gratuita’ and is part of the concept of justice for all.
Who qualifies?: Generally, free legal advice will only be granted to those on low incomes and/or with low levels of savings (means testing is carried out). However, it can also be granted to those who fall into one of the following categories regardless of their financial means; workers and other people signed up to the national Social Security system (to defend their labour rights); victims of gender violence, terrorism and human trafficking; minors/ children and people with mental disabilities when they are victims of situations of abuse or mistreatment.
What is the process to follow?
The first stage is to see the duty lawyer for a free initial assessment in the centre closest to where you live. This is known as the ‘Servicio de Orientación Juridica’ (SOJ) (Judicial Guidance Service).
Firstly, find your nearest centre. Normally you will need to make a prior appointment (cita previa) by phone or sometimes in person. If in doubt, it is normally possible to physically go to the office and ask how to make a prior appointment.
If you fall into one of the following categories, you should generally be prioritised for an appointment and so you should go directly to the centre, or tell them your case is urgent when making the appointment: where you yourself have received a court notice or summons that somebody has taken out an action against you; all issues of domestic violence; if a child or under-age person is at risk – these are all counted as priority cases. Other types of question may need to wait longer for an appointment.
At the first appointment, you need to take all documentation about your issue you can, and you will be advised in confidence on your issue and help given with assessing the application for Legal Aid. They may advise other courses of action, such as mediation, or often solve the problem there and then with their advice to you, without you needing to take it any further. Sometimes the lawyer you are seeing will speak some English, but this is not guaranteed. It depends who is on duty. Generally, you should take a Spanish speaker with you if needed.
If you are subsequently granted Legal Aid and take your case to court, the law says you will then have the right to an English interpreter.
Note: The first appointment is for people who feel they might be entitled to free Legal Aid. lt is not a free legal guidance service for every member of the public, although if you are in doubt if you qualify it is better to make an appointment to ask.
(On this link you can see advice on other ways to access lawyers/ legal support or similar support in Spain).
How to find your nearest centre to ask about Legal Aid
(Remember, you are asking for the ‘Servicio de Orientación Juridica’ (SOJ) (Judicial Guidance Service)).
- The following weblink is the Spain-wide association of the local law or bar societies (Colegios de Abogados) that offer this service as part of their role. On clicking on the link, scroll down to the base and there is a map, where you can find the head office of the nearest Colegio. Even if the main centre is not very close to you, most also have local, satellite offices which could be closer to you. You will need to click on the weblink shown for the main office on the point on the map and click on and search their web page that pops up for the addresses of local centres. (The Colegio you choose to contact should at least cover the province where you live (for example, if you live in the Costa Tropical (in Granada province) you need a Colegio for Granada not Malaga)).
- Alternatively, if you click on this link to our directory, you can see a little more information on which towns close to have you have local SOJ centres in the areas of Spain we cover in detail, although for full contact details you will still need to find the area centre using the weblink and instructions above. (Remember to enter the town where you live to narrow your search when you see the results).
- Council social services departments normally have close links to these local Legal Aid services, and in some larger cities even additionally arrange regular Legal Aid advice surgeries in council offices. If you are in contact with town hall social services with regard to your issue, they should also be able to advise you on how to see a lawyer locally. Click here to search for council details in the areas we cover in detail. (Remember to enter the town where you live to narrow your search).
The following link from the British government’s Living in Spain guide also provides some more technical and supporting information on Legal Aid in Spain https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/legal-aid-in-spain