I can’t afford a criminal law lawyer. Where can I get free legal help?

2. Get free legal advice

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) also provides legal services to people in Ontario with very low incomes.

Legal aid certificates

If you have a low income, you may be able to get a legal aid certificate. To get help, you must meet LAO's financial eligibility rules. This means you have to show them that you have a low income.

LAO will ask you how much money your whole household makes. They will ask how many family members live in your house and how much money each person makes. They combine all the incomes of your family members to get your gross family income.

You must also show that your legal issue is one that LAO covers. In criminal law, 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
  • you could face serious immigration consequences if you're found guilty

If you get a legal aid certificate, this means that LAO pays a lawyer to work for you.

You should not pay any money directly to the lawyer who accepts your certificate. Your legal aid certificate is meant to cover the entire cost of your matter. If you need more time, your lawyer can ask LAO for more hours.

In some cases, you may need to sign a “contribution agreement”. This is an agreement between you and LAO where you agree to pay back LAO some money based on your income.  

Duty counsel

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 , 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.

Duty counsel usually can't represent you at your , but they may be able to:

Inside the courtroom, they can:

  • give information to the court for you
  • your case if you appear without a lawyer
  • tell the court what's going on with your case when they adjourn it

Services while in custody

If you need to talk to a lawyer while you're in , the police must tell you about the Brydges duty counsel service. This is a service provided by Legal Aid Ontario. It gives free legal advice to anyone in Ontario who is or . It is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The service is available in English, French, and any other language through an interpreter.

Tell the police officer that you want to talk to duty counsel if you don't have your own criminal lawyer. The officer should call the hotline for you and let you speak with duty counsel in private. If duty counsel is not available, the officer can leave a message and duty counsel should call you back within 30 minutes.

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