Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) only gives legal aid certificates for certain kinds of legal issues. They cover some issues about:
- family law
- criminal law
- immigration law
- refugee law
You usually can't get a legal aid certificate to pay for a divorce, except in very rare situations. For example, where there are also immigration issues or where a divorce is needed to deal with financial difficulties, like qualifying for a pension.
You may be able to get a certificate for custody, access, support, or child protection issues. When deciding if you qualify for a certificate, LAO looks at things like:
- how complex the case is, for example how many legal issues are involved
- if the person paying support is self-employed
- literacy issues
- domestic violence
If you’re not eligible for a certificate, you may be referred to other LAO services, like duty counsel, advice counsel, or a Family Law Service Centre.
LAO also offers services for people who have a low income and try to resolve their family law issues outside of court. These include:
- Separation agreements: LAO may cover the cost of up to 10 hours with a family lawyer to help negotiate and draft a separation agreement.
- Mediation: LAO may cover the cost up to 6 hours with a family lawyer to help people using mediation. A lawyer can help before, during, or after you sign a mediation agreement.
LAO may cover some or all the cost of your legal help if:
- you've been charged with a crime and it is likely that you will go to jail if you're found guilty
- you're between 12 and 17 years old and have been charged with a crime under the Youth Criminal Justice Act
- you belong to a vulnerable group
- you've experienced domestic violence and don't have a criminal record
- you're in jail and trying to get bail
- you could face serious immigration consequences if you're found guilty
Even if you don't qualify for a legal aid certificate, you may be able to use the criminal duty counsel program when you're in court. Through this program, LAO pays lawyers, known as duty counsel, to give free legal advice to people who don't have a lawyer. Duty counsel work in most courts in Ontario. If they aren't in the courthouse, they will have an office nearby.
Immigration and Refugee law
Because of recent funding cuts, it may be difficult to get help from LAO if you have an immigration or refugee problem.
On April 16, 2019, LAO stopped giving people certificates for immigration law problems. They only give certificates for refugee claimants to get legal help completing their Basis of Claim form. Certificates are not currently available for refugee hearings, appeals, or other immigration applications.
If you’re not eligible for a certificate, LAO also funds refugee law offices in Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa. Lawyers at these offices can represent some people who qualify for legal aid services. They can help with:
This may change if LAO gets more money to pay the costs of helping people with immigration and refugee problems.