Free legal advice providers

If you cannot afford a lawyer, there are people who may be able to give you legal assistance at no cost.

Free legal advice providers may give you legal advice and support and answer your questions about:

  • your prospects of sucesss
  • other options to taking legal action
  • what to expect and the process at ACAT
  • what you will be required to do and prove
  • when you need to start your case (applicable timeframes).

Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) 

Provides legal advice and representation for indigenous people in Canberra and the surrounding region.

See the Aboriginal Legal Service website for more information and contact details.

ACT Pro Bono Clearing House (ACT Law Society) 

Provides free legal advice on simple legal matters.

See their ACT Law Society website for contact details.

Canberra Community Law 

Provides legal services to people on low incomes or facing other disadvantage in Canberra and the region. There legal services include:

  • Housing Law
  • Street Law
  • Night Time Legal Advice Service
  • Dhurrawang Aboriginal Human Rights Program
  • Disability Discrimination Law
  • Social Security Law
  • Socio-Legal Practice.

See the Canberra Community Law website for more information and contact details.

Consumer Law Centre (CLC) 

Provides free legal assistance and advice to low to moderate income consumers, primarily in the areas of consumer credit, telecommunications and utilities, as well as general fair trading consumer protection.

They also have a Debt Enforcement Clinic [PDF 176KB] that provides services to people whose debts are being enforced (or at risk of being enforced) in court.

See the Consumer Law Centre website for more information and contact details.

Environmental Defenders Office 

Provides free legal advice and representation on environmental law issues.

You can book an appointment on the  Environmental Defenders website.

Legal Advice Bureau (ACT Law Society) 

Provides free 15-minute consultations Monday to Friday 12:30pm–2:00pm (by appointment only). In some cases, you will be referred to external, private solicitors.

See the ACT Law Society website for contact details.

Legal Aid ACT 

Provides advice on a range of different legal problems, such as debt, discrimination, residential tenancies (rental properties), elder abuse, guardianship, mental health, neighbourhood disputes and small business matters.

You can get free one-off legal advice (for 30 minutes) regardless of your income or assets. Further assistance is means and merits tested.

See the Legal Aid ACT website for more information and contact details.

They also have a Youth Law Centre (for persons aged between 12 and 25 years) and a Community Liaison Unit, which includes:

  • Aboriginal Liaison Officers
  • Cultural Liaison Officers
  • Family Violence Officer
  • Migration Clinic.

Women’s Legal Centre 

Provides free, confidential telephone advice to women on legal issues. The organisation also researches law reform and runs community legal advice sessions.

See the Women's Legal Centre website for more information and contact details.

More options

You can check the Free Law Directory on the Legal Aid ACT website for more details of free legal assistance providers.

If you are looking for private legal practitioners and firms in Canberra you can search the lawyer's directory on the ACT Law Society's website.

If you decide to represent yourself, the Environmental Defenders Office has a guide to legal research in the ACT.

Glossary and terms

Glossary and terms

ACT Civil and Administrative TribunalA tribunal established under the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. It may also be referred to as ACAT or Tribunal.

Adjourn (or adjournment)To suspend or postpone a preliminary conference, mediation or hearing and reschedule it for a future date.

Administrative reviewACAT has jurisdiction to review some administrative decisions made by the ACT Government. Find out about Review of ACT Government decisions.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)Also known as dispute resolution. This is a way of resolving disputes without a formal hearing. It may involve a preliminary conference or mediation. ADR is used to help parties resolve cases by agreement.

AnorMeans ‘and another’. This term is generally used to name parties to proceedings when there is more than one applicant or respondent.

Appeal TribunalA tribunal constituted under section 81 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal 2008 to review a decision of the tribunal (not all ACAT decisions are appealable at ACAT – you may need to go to the Supreme Court).

AppellantThe individual or company that appeals an ACAT decision.

ApplicantThe individual or company that brings a case to ACAT, usually by making an application.

Authorising lawsA law that says an application (including referrals) may be made to ACAT. An authorising law may also set out the powers ACAT has in a case. Also see ‘jurisdiction’.

Calling a witnessA party or their representative will ‘call a witness’ at an ACAT hearing when they ask a witness to give evidence.

CaseAlso known as a matter, dispute, application or referral. Cases come to ACAT when ACAT has jurisdiction (power) to make a decision.

Cross-examinationThe process of asking a witness questions to test or check the evidence that the witness has given to ACAT.

Defined benefitsare the following benefits (see section 33 of the MAI Act):

  1. income replacement benefits;
  2. treatment and care benefits;
  3. quality of life benefits;
  4. death benefits;
  5. funeral benefits.

Deliver a decisionAlso ‘handing down a decision’. This is giving a decision about an ACAT case. It may be done verbally or in writing (or both).

DirectionsInstructions that set out what each party must do (and when), often to prepare a case for hearing.

Directions hearingA short hearing where an ACAT Member or Registrar decides how to manage a case and what needs to be done before a hearing. Find out about directions hearings.

Ex parte orderAn order made by ACAT where one or more parties were not present.

Expert reportA written report from an expert that may be used as evidence.

Expert witnessA person with specialised knowledge based on their training, study or experience. An expert can give evidence at a hearing. Find out more about witness statements.

Final directions hearingSometimes ACAT will hold a final directions hearing prior to the final hearing of an application. The purpose is to make sure the case is ready to go to a hearing and give the parties a chance to ask questions about the hearing process.

Handed upGiving documents to an ACAT Member or Registrar in a hearing.

In chambersWhen ACAT considers something without holding a hearing.

Joined party (joined/joinder)A party who was not originally a party to the dispute but has later been added to the case.

JurisdictionACAT’s authority (power) to deal with, hear and decide applications (cases).

LeaveIf someone asks for leave, they are usually asking for permission to do something.

List (or listing)A schedule (or list) of cases to be heard at ACAT each day.

Listing noticeA letter or written document from ACAT that sets out when a conference, mediation or hearing is scheduled at ACAT.

MAI ActMotor Accident Injuries Act 2019 (ACT).

MediationA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute, with the help of an impartial mediator (who is also an ACAT Member or Registrar). It is held under section 35 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008.

Non-publication and/or non-disclosure orderAlso called a ‘suppression order’. It is an order that requires certain information not to be published or disclosed. It is made under section 39 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. Find out about public hearings and confidentiality.

Notice to partiesA letter sent to the parties in a case that sets out the time, date and location for an ACAT conference, mediation or hearing.

Opening statementUsually means a statement made at the beginning of a hearing to outline the key points in the case. Sometimes parties are asked to give an opening statement at a mediation or preliminary conference.

Originating applicationAn application that starts an ACAT case.

Party or partiesAn individual or company directly involved in an ACAT case, for example an applicant or respondent. Find out how to identify and name parties.

Preliminary conferenceA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute with the help of an ACAT Member or Registrar. See section 33 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. ACAT has different types of preliminary conferences.

RegistryThe administrative section of ACAT that accepts documents lodged by parties, handles enquiries and provides support for case management.

Relevant insurerfor a motor accident, means the insurer under the Motor Accident Injuries Act 2019 (see section 34) of the motor vehicle considered to be at fault for the motor accident in the ACT.

RepresentativeA person who represents or advocates for an individual or company at a conference, mediation or hearing at ACAT. For example, a legal practitioner or an attorney appointed under a general power of attorney.

Reserved decisionWhen an ACAT Member or Registrar reserves a decision (at the end of a hearing), this means they will give their decision later, either verbally or in writing (sometimes both).

RespondentThe party (or parties) against whom orders or relief is sought.

Serve/serviceA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.

Short service orderAn order that authorises a shorter time for service (than the time otherwise required).

Significant occupational impact (SOI)Significant impact on an injured person’s ability to undertake employment.

Statement of reasonsA document that explains why ACAT made an order in a case. It sets out the law relied on by an ACAT Member or Registrar and explains how the law was applied to the facts of the case. You can request a written statement of reasons within 14 days after an order is made. Find out about statement of reasons.

StayAn order for a particular action (or decision) to be put on hold or suspended for a period of time.

SubmissionA document that sets out your side of a case or dispute and the relevant law. It is presented to ACAT either in writing, verbally or both. Find out about submissions.

SubpoenaRequires a person to appear at ACAT to give evidence or provide documents (or both). Find out about subpoenas.

Substituted service orderAn order that says how a party is to be served with an application or other documents related to the proceedings. In a civil dispute or a rental dispute, an applicant will need to consider asking for a substituted service order if they do not have a physical address for the respondent. Find out about lodging and serving documents.

WitnessA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.