Is there anywhere in France where we can obtain free legal advice in English? Our mayor has been helpful, but we are having difficulty communicating with her as our French is limited. L.J.
France has free legal advice centres comparable to British Citizens Advice Bureaux, called maisons de justice et du droit.
They have a triple function: giving general legal advice, arranging mediation between parties in minor civil disputes (eg. between neighbours) and helping crime victims.
They are usually found in towns, and larger ones may have several (an internet or yellow pages search should show your nearest ones).
However, an adviser at one in Lyon said there was no guarantee of finding a legal expert who spoke English.
She suggested you should go with a French-speaker who can translate for you.
You may also be able to get some general advice from associations for expats in your area or from your consulate.
Alternatively you will need to pay for advice from a professional such as a notaire or an avocat.
To generalise, a notaire deals mainly with family law and property matters, and an avocat with litigation or specialised legal advice such as business law.
You can approach either directly. You can find English-speaking notaires at www.notaires.fr by going to the English version and clicking: “Find a notaire”.
The Bordeaux bar (ie. avocat’s professional body) said most larger avocats’ firms have someone who speaks good English.
Your local bar (barreau) may also be able to advise.
In some cases legal aid may be available, called aide juridictionnelle. This may cover all or a part of legal costs and is available to non-French people resident in France; however, it mainly relates to matters that are going to court.
Entitlement is based on income in the previous year compared to certain thresholds. These are currently, for full legal aid, €915/month, or €916-€1,372 for partial aid, to which you add €165 for the first two people (children or partner) living with you and €104 for any others. You can get further information from mairies and maisons de justice et du droit.