Procedural expenses and procedural assistance

Expenses in civil and administrative matters

Legal proceedings are sometimes expensive. The procedural expenses in civil and administrative matters are the state fee and bail, the costs related to proof (e.g. the costs of summoning witnesses, costs of expert analyses) as well as the expenses of the parties to the proceedings and their representatives (e.g. legal expenses, transport, etc.). Procedural expenses must be paid during the proceedings by the party to the proceedings who requests the procedural act with which the costs are associated. Thus, the plaintiff or the applicant must pay the state fee when filing an action or complaint, the costs of witnesses or expert analyses must be paid in advance by the party that requests the summoning of a witness or the appointment of an expert, and each party must pay their representatives.

After the end of the judicial proceedings, the party who lost the case is usually required to compensate the expenses incurred by the counterparty (and any third party that participated on the opposing side) during the proceedings. In a civil matter, the dismissal of the action usually means that the plaintiff must compensate the defendant for the costs incurred in relation to the judicial proceedings, but if the action is granted, the defendant is required to pay the plaintiff’s costs.

The same principle also applies in administrative court proceedings, but in general, the applicant is not required to pay the legal expenses of the respondent, because it’s presumed that the body that is the respondent can organise its representation in court without hiring a legal adviser. However, it has been found in judicial practice that requiring compensation of the respondent’s legal expenses is justified in the cases where the dispute exceeds the limits of the ordinary activities of the body that is the respondent and it cannot be presumed that the respondent would have been able to organise its participation in the judicial proceedings without the assistance of a lawyer. However, if a third party participates in the proceedings on the respondent’s side (i.e. supports the respondent’s position), the applicant will be required to pay the third party’s expenses. In the case of a compromise, the costs are usually shared with the compromise.

Procedural assistance

In order to ensure that a person’s rights are not left without protection because they do not have enough money for covering procedural expenses, it is possible to apply for procedural assistance in both administrative and civil court proceedings. In both administrative and civil matters, the court can release a person from payment of the state fee or bail at their request either in full or in part, or allow for them to be paid in parts, and the court can also release a person from the payment of other court costs (e.g. the costs of witnesses) or the costs of translation of procedural documents. When deciding on the grant of procedural assistance, the court assesses the applicant’s financial status and the prospects of success of the claim or application filed by them. For example, the county court will not agree to release the plaintiff from payment of state fees if the action lacks prospects of success under the circumstances described by the plaintiff or if the benefit received from the grant of the action is unreasonably small for the plaintiff.

In order to receive procedural assistance, an application and the data of one’s financial status must be submitted to the court in both civil and administrative court proceedings. The court may require data from banks and other entities for the assessment of a person’s financial status. The conditions of granting procedural assistance are stipulated in § 111 et seq. of the Code of Administrative Court Procedure and § 181 et seq. of the Code of Civil Procedure.

State legal aid

State legal aid, i.e. the provision of legal services to a person at the expense of the state on the conditions and according to the procedure stipulated in the State Legal Aid Act, is also a type of procedural assistance. When state legal aid is applied for, the court again assesses the applicant’s
financial status, the prospects of success of the claim (complaint, action, application) filed by them and the importance of the disputed issue for the applicant.

It is important that the submission of an application for state legal aid or other procedural assistance does not suspend the course of the deadlines set forth by law. Thus, if a deadline for referring a matter to court is stipulated by law (e.g. the 30-day deadline for submission of an appeal for annulment to an administrative court), then filing an application for state legal aid during this time is not enough, but the complaint, action or application must be submitted as well. This complaint, action or application may include deficiencies and it is sufficient if it generally outlines the problem that the person wants to refer to a court. The court will ask the person to specify this if necessary. If the court decides to grant state legal aid to the person, the lawyer who starts representing the person by way of state legal aid can correct the deficiencies in the complaint or the statement of claim.

The procedural expenses in criminal proceedings are also the various expenses related to the review of the case from the defence counsel’s fees to the expenses related to obtaining evidence and expert analysis. In the case of a judgment of conviction, the procedural expenses will be compensated by the convicted person. If the convicted person is obviously unable to compensate the procedural expenses, the court will request the state to pay a part of them. If a civil action is not granted, the victim will pay the costs related to the processing of the civil action. In the case of a judgment of acquittal, the procedural expenses will be compensated by the state. In the case of termination of criminal proceedings, the procedural expenses will generally also be paid by the state. As an exception, the accused person may be required to compensate for the procedural expenses if the proceedings are terminated due to the lack of public interest in the proceedings.

In criminal proceedings, the accused person has the right to a defence counsel. If the accused person does not choose a defence counsel, but requests a defence counsel or if the participation of a defence counsel is mandatory pursuant to law (which is usually the case in the judicial proceedings of a criminal matter), the court will appoint a defence counsel by way of state legal aid. The court must appoint a defence counsel even if the accused person’s financial status is sufficient for hiring a defence counsel.

The person subject to proceedings has the right to request the appointment of a defence counsel by way of state legal aid also in misdemeanour proceedings if they want a defence counsel, but have not selected one for themselves. In a misdemeanour matter, the court assesses the financial status of the person subject to proceedings when deciding on the provision of state legal aid, unless the person subject to proceedings is between 14 and 18 years of age or is unable to represent themselves due to a mental disorder.

Free legal aid

Various non-profit organisations, such a local governments, universities and state authorities, also provide simpler legal aid to underprivileged persons.

  • The locations and opening hours of the free legal pharmacies launched by the Estonian Lawyers Union and the Ministry of Justice can be found on the website of the Estonian Lawyers Union.

  • Two hours of legal counselling can be found on the website The 15 offices of that provides the service are located in Haapsalu, Jõgeva, Jõhvi, Kuressaare, Narva, Paide, Põlva, Pärnu, Rakvere, Tallinn, Tartu, Valga, Viljandi and Võru.
  • The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People provides legal aid to people with special needs in Tallinn, Tartu, Paide, Pärnu, Põlva, Jõhvi, Rakvere, Kuressaare, Viljandi, Võru, Valga, Rapla, Jõgeva, Narva and Käina. Further information: