Established in 2004, the mission of the Taiwan Legal Aid Foundation (LAF) is to offer a comprehensive range of legal aid services for the financially disadvantaged in Taiwan. Mainly funded by an endowment from the Judicial Yuan worth just over 1.5 billion NTD (about 55 million USD), as of 2021, the LAF has 22 branch offices around Taiwan employing 300 staff members, and with 3,000 private lawyers actively connected to the foundation’s operations.
Here are the top ten takeaways for those who wish to use or recommend the use of this organization:
1. The Taiwan Legal Aid Foundation (LAF) mainly offers services in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and English. It is sometimes possible to access services in other languages, such as Vietnamese, Thai, or Bahasa Indonesia, but provisions for this are limited.
2.The LAF offers a range of services, including initial legal advice through online Google Meet video-conference at no cost for English-speaking foreigners currently living in Taiwan. This service will be a one-off advice session for your case and it must be arranged by appointment beforehand. The session is up to 40 minutes maximum and a free translator will be provided throughout the video-conference. If you would like to use this service, fill in the form ( https://forms.gle/22YM9TvAQW4pREen6 ) and LAF will arrange a time for you. This advice is for actual legal situations, not for general public information. Don’t use this service if you are just curious or doing general research.
3. You can call the LAF from police or judicial custody to request assistance if you are being interrogated or interviewed by police or prosecutors, or will be soon, or just have been. Please note that in Taiwan you can legally refuse to answer questions until you have obtained legal advice. It is always better to have legal representation or advice during these procedures.
4. If you are a non-native Mandarin speaker, you have a legal right in Taiwan to a court-certified legal translator. This may be provided privately, by LAF or by the judicial system itself. So, if you don’t have one, arrange for one or politely insist on having one. Needless to say, don’t sign anything that is in Mandarin unless it has been translated for you by a court-certified legal translator.
5. After the initial advice, you can apply for a legal aid grant for full or partial legal representation for any criminal, civil, family, or administrative legal issue. This includes launching a criminal complaint, lawsuit, or other legal action as well as responding to one. You may visit the LAF website for more information about applying for legal aid.
6. However, whether you are granted aid or not depends on a means test. For example, if you are a single-person household living in Taipei City, you may be granted full aid if your monthly income is less than 32,027 NTD. For a two-person household, the cut-off is a combined monthly income of 53,378 NTD. For partial assistance, in which the LAF services consumer would pay for a portion of their own legal costs, household income would need to be between 32,027 NTD and 38, 432 NTD for a single-person household, and between 53,378 and 64,054 NTD for a two-person household. For larger households (three-person, four-person, and so on) the cut-off level for household goes up. The cut-off level is highest in Taipei City and lower in other areas. The total amount of aid granted will not exceed 500,000 NTD for full aid and 600,000 NTD for partial aid for both one-person or two-person households, and 800,000 NTD and 960,000 NTD respectively for a four-person household, and so on, up to a family size of ten persons. The fact that some money or other assets may be unavailable due to the actual cause of your legal predicament, i.e., spousal control of a bank account, or non-payment of wages owed, etc., will be taken in to consideration by the LAF.
7. If the committee accepts your application for aid, you will be connected with either a staff lawyer or an associated private lawyer. If you are rejected, you have the right to appeal the decision. If the appeal does not rule in your favor, the LAF may not officially recommend any lawyer for you. You need to reach out to friends and other support groups or individuals who can offer you a confidential recommendation of a competent, reliable, and effective lawyer.
8. The financial means test for legal assistance may be waived in some situations. The organization is limited in resources and scope, and must follow the law, as well its own policies, and regulations. However, there is sometimes room for discretion in making decisions, so don’t give up on advance because you think they might reject your case.
9. When dealing with the police, always have a smart and mature local Taiwanese friend or relative come with you. Make sure you get correct documentation from the police for any complaint or report. Your attitude and behavior with the police may influence their treatment of your case. For example, wearing office attire such as a tie or suit, speaking whatever Mandarin you can to show cultural respect, adopting a polite and formal style of behavior, etc., may influence them to treat you and your case more seriously.
10. Last but not least, be smart with the law in Taiwan, as it is a foreign country for you. The rules and how the game is played may be very different than your home country. Become aware of the law for driving accidents, defamation, divorce, public insult, etc. Work legally, pay your taxes, and avoid all illegal activities. But don’t forget that you have rights, so become aware of any relevant labor, accident, or family laws that might protect your legitimate interests. For general information, do some online research. But if you are in a real legal situation, or think you might be, get legal counsel. DO NOT substitute posting on Facebook for getting actual legal advice. And if you are of limited means at the moment, reach out to the LAF by phone, walk in to make an appointment, or get a friend to assist you. The LAF is there to help.