The right to a counsel is one of the constitutionally guaranteed human rights. Defence with a counsel ensures the defendant, who is frequently unskilled in law, to have an "equality of arms" in criminal proceedings and serves as the key element of the right to a fair trial.
Courts may provide information on the course of proceedings to the parties to proceedings, but they must not provide them with legal advice. If a defendant requires legal assistance, they should acquire the services of a lawyer.
A counsel may represent a defendant in criminal proceedings. In certain cases, counsel is mandatory (e.g. if the defendant is mute or deaf, if they are accused of the most serious criminal offences, if they were remanded in custody).
Only a lawyer may be a counsel, but they may be substituted by a trainee lawyer.
The injured party and the injured party as the prosecutor may authorise a third person to represent them in criminal proceedings. In certain cases, an injured party who is a minor must have in attendance an authorised person who will uphold their rights throughout the criminal proceedings.
Free legal aid
A defendant has the right to a counsel. If their financial situation prevents this, they have the right to free legal aid.
Free legal aid is granted to persons whose monthly income (personal income), or average monthly income per family member (the family’s own income), does not exceed twice the base amount of the minimum income laid down in the act governing social security services (Social Assistance Act). Such aid may be used for full or partial coverage of legal aid costs and the exemption from the payment of court proceedings costs.
Free legal aid is implemented at courts (district, labour and administrative). Information on addresses and business hours and forms are available on the websites of the courts.
Applications for free legal aid must be filed for each court proceedings separately and marked accordingly whether the coverage of legal aid costs (costs of a lawyer) and/or costs of the court proceedings is being enforced.
A person being granted free legal aid may also be exempt from the payment of court fees.