How do I apply for Legal Aid?
Applications for Legal Aid must be made at your local Legal Aid office or at a Legal Aid office at an Ontario Court of Justice. Legal Aid applications are not available online. Prior to attending a Legal Aid office it is recommended you call Legal Aid toll free 1-800-668-8258 or 416-979-1446.
When should I apply for Legal Aid?
Your local Legal Aid offence will not process your application until you are able to provide them with documentation regarding what criminal offence you have been charged with and what form of punishment the Crown Attorney is seeking if you were to plead guilty. The Crown Attorney’s position on a punishment will be outlined on the Crown Screening form, which is provided to you with the disclosure. You will usually receive disclosure on the first court appearance, and on that date Duty Counsel can assist you by adjourning your matter so that you can have an opportunity to apply for Legal Aid. Once you have received disclosure and you have all the necessary financial documentation, you should attend your local Legal Aid office right away so that you can begin the application process.
What financial and legal documentation does Legal Aid require?
When you attend the local Legal Aid office to apply for a Legal Aid certificate, you should bring with you any financial documentation demonstrating that you meet the financial requirements necessary to be approved for Legal Aid. Financial documents may include anything that demonstrates what your current income is, what your income was for the previous year and whether you own any assets (house, investments, etc.). Legal Aid may also want to know if there are any family members that can assist you financially in retaining a lawyer.
When you attend your local Legal Aid office you should also bring with you a copy of the Crown Screening form that you received with your disclosure, and a copy of the Synopsis of the alleged offence which will also be a part of the disclosure package provided to you by the Crown Attorney.
Who is eligible for Legal Aid?
With respect to criminal matters, Legal Aid will determine your eligibility based upon two criteria. The first condition is financial eligibility, which is determined primarily upon your household income. On their website, Legal Aid provides a table outlining whether it is likely you will qualify for a Legal Aid certificate or for a contribution agreement. To view the financial eligibility table click here.
When determining whether you are financially eligible for a certificate or a contribution agreement, Legal Aid will also take into consideration any other assets you have and whether you can receive financial assistance from family members.
The second condition that must be met before you will be eligible to receive Legal Aid is that your matter must be serious enough to justify you receiving legal assistance. Generally, only when the Crown Attorney is seeking a jail sentence will your matter be serious enough to warrant you receiving Legal Aid.
I have a Legal Aid Certificate, Can I go to any Lawyer I want?
No. Only lawyers who are members of the Criminal Legal Aid Panel can accept Legal Aid certificates. In circumstances where you have been charged with a very serious offence such as murder or manslaughter, you will need to find a lawyer who is a member of the Extremely Serious Criminal Matters Panel. For a list of all offences that are considered serious criminal matters click here.
How do I find a Legal Aid Lawyer?
Finding a lawyer that accepts Legal Aid certificates can be difficult as there is no list of all lawyers on the Criminal Legal Aid Panel that is available to the public. The Law Society Referral Service can provide you with the name of a lawyer who is on the Criminal Legal Aid Panel, however you will not be provided with a list of lawyers to choose from.
Your best approaches are to do an internet search for legal aid lawyers in your city or attend the Duty Counsel office at the courthouse and ask for the names of a few legal aid lawyers and then research each of these lawyers.
I was Denied Legal Aid, What do I do?
If you have not been approved for Legal Aid, you essentially have 3 options. First, you can choose to represent yourself, which any competent lawyer would recommend against you doing. Second, you can try to make arrangements with a lawyer about a payment schedule, however often lawyers will want to be fully retained before they put themselves on record with the court that they are representing you. Finally, you can appeal the decision by Legal Aid.
If you have been denied a Legal Aid certificate on the basis that you are either financially or legally ineligible, then you may have a right of appeal. When Legal Aid sends you a letter indicating you have not been approved for a certificate, the letter will indicate whether you have a right of appeal. For more information on the appeal process click here.
How long does it take to be approved for Legal Aid?
Once you have submitted your application for Legal Aid, it will usually take 2 or 3 weeks before you receive a letter indicating whether you have been approved or not. You will receive a decision from Legal Aid that will indicate either; (1) you have been approved for a Legal Aid certificate, (2) you have been approved for a Legal Aid certificate on the condition that you agree to a contribution program, or (3) you have not been approved for a Legal Aid certificate.
I have not heard from Legal Aid and my next Court date is coming up, what do I do?
If you are still waiting to hear if you are going to be approved for Legal Aid, you should attend court early so that you speak with a Duty Counsel lawyer and advise him or her that you do not have a decision from Legal Aid. The Duty Counsel Lawyer in the courtroom that day should be able to adjourn your matter for another week or two. When you attend court you should bring documentation proving you have applied for Legal Aid. Prior to attending court you should also call the Legal Aid hotline and ask when you might expect to have a decision from Legal Aid.
Contact me today if you have been approved for Legal Aid.
Follow the link for more information on Legal Aid.