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Being charged with a criminal offence is a daunting experience, both mentally and financially. For many, affording legal representation may be difficult, if not impossible. Fortunately, in circumstances where jail time is a possibility and certain financial requirements are met, an accused may be eligible for Legal Aid in the form of information, representation and financial assistance from Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).

What is Legal Aid?

Legal Aid is assistance provided to an accused, by LAO, when one cannot afford their own legal counsel. It is provided through 4 main sources. The amount of help and guidance received depends on your personal circumstances and financial eligibility.

Listed below are the forms of Legal Aid, what they provide, and how to access them.

LawFacts.ca – currently inactive

LawFacts is a free and open source of legal information that should be used in conjunction with other forms of Legal Aid. It is a useful tool even if you do not qualify for other forms of assistance. The website will serve to make the process clearer by providing an overview of a variety of pertinent topics such as the Criminal Code, bail, surety and first appearances.

The purpose of the website is to help you understand the criminal justice system and the next steps you must undertake.  However, it is important to note that LawFacts is not legal advice. It is not a substitute for representation from your lawyer.

Duty Counsel

Duty Counsel provides legal assistance to persons of low income appearing in court without a lawyer. They can advise you about your charges and criminal court procedure.

Their offices can be found in the courthouse often close to the courtroom you have been requested to attend. You should speak to counsel on the day of your court date at least 30 minutes before court commences.

Try to bring all documents when attending Duty Counsel, including your disclosure, so that the office may provide more specific advice about your case. However, even without these documents, criminal duty counsel can still give general advice about your legal options.

In order, to avail yourself of some types of Duty Counsel assistance, including guidance on court motions and pleas, you must be financially eligible.  You will likely qualify if your gross family income is lower than these levels:

Number of Family Members Family Income Must be Lower than
1 $20,225
2 $30,337
3 $34,832
4 $41,573
5+ $48,315

*These values are subject to change. They are current from April 1, 2015 to April 1, 2016 at which point the eligibility thresholds will be raised.

Beyond that, your charges must also qualify for assistance. There should be a likelihood of jail time if found guilty. However, this may not be mandatory. LAO recognizes that each circumstance is unique. There may be aggravating or mitigating factors that increase the need for legal assistance. despite the fact that jail time may not necessarily occur.  One circumstance where jail time is not a pre-requisite is where a person needs representation after experiencing domestic violence.

Should eligibility requirements be met, you may qualify for Legal Aid from Duty Counsel. If you are unsure whether you qualify based on the information above make sure to contact Legal Aid’s toll free help line at 1-800-668-8258 or visit the Duty Counsel office at the courthouse.

Summary Legal Advice

Summary Legal Advice provides you with the opportunity to have a 20-minute phone conversation with a lawyer who will answer questions and provide advice on your legal case.

Summary legal advice is valuable in several circumstances:

  • If you are about to be charged you may receive guidance on police questioning, bail arrangements and finding a lawyer.
  • If you have been charged you may receive guidance on what to expect in court including first appearances, pleas and sentencing.
  • Legal advice is also available if a friend or family member is in custody and requires help with bail or surety.

It is free to call and make general inquires about legal advice at 1-800-668-8258. However, in order to qualify to speak to a lawyer you must be financially eligible.

The requirements for summary legal advice are the same as those for Duty Counsel, so refer to the chart above to see if you qualify.


Representation by a lawyer through the Certificate Program

Finally, if you qualify for the Certificate Program you will receive a voucher authorizing a privately practicing lawyer to assist you though full representation. This is the most comprehensive form of Legal Aid.

In order to qualify for the program your income must be lower than the stipulated totals in column 2 of the chart below. If your income is above the threshold for the Certificate Program but lower than the amount listed in column 3, you may still qualify. In such a circumstance you will be expected to make a contribution agreement and repay some of the assistance provided to you.

To determine whether you qualify for either the Certificate Program or the contribution agreement see the chart provided.

Number of Family Members Certificate Program
Income must be lower than:
Contribution Agreement

Income must be lower than:

1 $12,135 $14,405
2 $20,993 $25,281
3 $23,932 $29,461
4 $27,042 $33,843
5+ $30,016 $38,157
Single Boarder $7,978 $9,214

*These values are subject to change. They are current from April 1, 2015 to April 1, 2016 at which point the eligibility thresholds will be raised.

Furthermore, the charges against you must qualify as well. There must be a possibility of jail time upon a finding of guilt; although, it is not necessarily a mandatory prerequisite depending on the mitigating or aggravating circumstances. If you are unsure whether you qualify, contact Legal Aid at 1-800-668-8258.

Step by Step Qualification for the Certificate Program

In order to successfully make use of the Certificate Program here are the steps to follow:

  1. You’ve received your first appearance package outlining when and where you are required to appear in order to face your charges.
  2. Before attending this appearance it is important to visit Lawfacts.ca and meet with Duty Counsel at the Courthouse. This will help remove some of the mystery of the process before you. Make sure to bring the following information with you to Duty Counsel
    1. Identification
    2. Disclosure papers
    3. Crown screening form (will be attached to Disclosure)
    4. The papers you received from police when you were released, ie notice to appear.
  3. The Duty Counsel will provide you with a referral to LAO.
  4. Upon meeting with LAO (or calling their toll-free number) they will closely examine your financial status in order to determine whether you qualify for assistance, provided in the form of either summary legal advice or legal representation.
  5. Should you qualify you can access a list of lawyers in your area at http://www.legalaid.on.ca/en/getting/findingalawyer.asp.
  6. Once you have made contact with a lawyer and he or she has agreed to represent you under the Certificate Program you will follow that lawyer’s procedures and directions. 


Hopefully this article will assist you in answering the question “Do I qualify for Legal Aid?” All of the information above is accessible at http://www.legalaid.on.ca/en/. Furthermore, the income requirements listed may be subject to change as they are periodically increased by the Ontario Government (the next change is scheduled for April 2016).

If you have any further inquiries more information can be found at that website or feel free to contact me at yourteam@armouredsuits.ca