What is a Criminal Legal Aid Certificate?
Legal Aid Ontario may provide criminal legal aid assistance for low-income individuals. Legal Aid Ontario provides many services, including a certificate program. A criminal Legal Aid certificate guarantees that the private practice lawyer you choose gets paid for representing you.
How can I get a Criminal Legal Aid Certificate?
- If you have been charged with a crime in Ontario you can call LAO’s toll free number 1-800-668-8258 or you can call a lawyer who accepts criminal legal aid and they can step you through the process
- you will need to apply for criminal legal aid through the certificate program
Will I be eligible for a Criminal Legal Aid Certificate?
- when it comes to criminal matters and legal aid, LAO considers two things: financial eligibility and whether the legal matter qualifies.
- Legal Aid Ontario assesses your eligibility based on your income. For example, if you are a single person living alone your income must be lower than $12,135. If you are in a family of five it must be less than $30,016. You can see a full chart at legalaid.on.ca
- There is also an option to enter into a contribution agreement. This requires you to sign an agreement to repay LAO for some or all of your legal fees.
- There are still financial cut offs to be eligible for a contribution agreement. For example, for a single person living alone, the cut off is $14,045. So, if you make more than $12,135 but less than $14,045 you could be eligible for legal aid by signing a contribution agreement.
Legal matter must qualify:
- To be eligible for Legal Aid, your legal matter must also qualify.
- Typically, this means that you are facing jail time if convicted but LAO has also recently expanded their eligibility to those who face significant secondary consequences.
- To help them figure out whether you may be facing jail time, LAO consults its list of criminal code charges. You can search for your charge at legalaid.on.ca but keep in mind that this is a guideline only.
- LAO also considers a number of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. These circumstances affect the likelihood of jail upon conviction.
- Some mitigating factors include: first offender, remorse, likely entering a guilty plea, etc.
- Some aggravating factors (i.e. that will make it more likely that you’re facing jail time): prior jail time for a related offence, on bail or probation, history of breeching orders, etc.
- To give an example: you are charged with assault. If this is your first offence, you are a youth, the complainant was not seriously injured, you’re remorseful, etc. you are less likely to face jail time if convicted and therefore you may not be eligible for legal aid. If you are charged with assault and your co-accused are youth but you are an adult you are more likely to face jail time. If you have previously served jail time for an assault in the last five years, you are more likely to face jail time.
- LAO takes so many factors into consideration when assessing eligibility that it’s never clear cut who will be approved. That’s why it’s important to speak to a lawyer who can help you apply for a criminal legal aid certificate.
Changes to LAO eligibility:
– LAO will make criminal legal aid certificates available to eligible adult accuseds with no prior criminal record or eligible youth accused with no prior dispositions if the Crown is seeking a conviction or a discharge and:
• the accused is First Nation, Métis or Inuit,
• the accused has mental illness, or
- the accused is victim of domestic violence charged with offence related to victim’s partner.
- LAO now considers a number of secondary circumstances when assessing elgibility.
- LAO will now make certificates available to accuseds who face these secondary circumstances upon conviction:
- immediate loss of existing livelihood or professional accreditation
- immediate loss of existing or planned educational opportunity
- significant impact on access to family and child custody
- risk of deportation
- • immediate loss of public housing, social assistance, or other public benefits/social services
- risk of being added to sexual offenders registry
So you’ve been charged with a crime…
- to sum up, if you’ve been charged with a crime and you need legal aid, you should call 1-800-668-8258 or contact a lawyer to help you through the legal aid application.
- Your lawyer can attend your first appearance with you, from there they will take you to the legal aid office. In Hamilton, the office is located on the first floor of the John Sopinka Court house. LAO will then assess your eligibility – based on the factors discussed above and based on documentation you provide.
- If you are not eligible for legal aid you have the ability to appeal (more on that later) or you have the opportunity to discuss a private retainer with your lawyer.
- If you are eligible for legal aid, you will be issued a certificate number and a client number.
- Your lawyer will also be able to access your certificate but it’s always a good idea to give them a call and let them know once you’re approved.
- Once your lawyer has your certificate, it means that they are able to fully represent you – but don’t forget, you still have to go to all of your court dates.
Who Can Appeal Legal Aid Coverage Denial
Those charged with criminal offence may want to appeal legal aid denial for a variety of reasons, including:
- the outright denial of aid due to financial or legal ineligibility
- because they disagree with the terms of a contribution agreement
- because they want to object to the cancellation of their legal aid certificate
To Appeal Legal Aid:
Send a letter to appeal legal aid to the office listed on the notice, to the attention of the area committee.
- timing is important when appealing legal aid denial because the appeal committee will not consider letters of appeal received more than 15 days after the date of notice of refusal or date of cancellation
- the appellant cannot attend the hearing in person, so it is important that all information provided is clear, relevant, accurate, and in writing
- the appeal legal aid letter can be in English or French, by regular mail or fax (the website does not specify that email is an option)
- the letter must include the appellant’s name, client number, current contact information, and reasons for appeal
The area committee will then consider:
- the letter of appeal
- financial information, lawyers’ opinion letters, any available transcripts, any other supporting information submitted
- the appellant should receive written notice of the decision within 10 days
If the area committee rejects the appeal, an appellant can further appeal to the provincial appeals department in Toronto.
- the appellant must send a letter or notice of appeal with all the reasons for the appeal listed
- the director of appeals reviews the letter, as well as the findings of the area committee and comes to a decision
- the director sends the appellant written decision by mail, generally within two weeks of receiving all the information they need
There is no right to appeal a decision made by the provincial appeals department. All decisions are final.
Other Important Information
- Law Help Ontario, a privately-funded alternative to Legal Aid Ontario, does not handle criminal cases
- Clients can access LawFacts, an online resource provided by Legal Aid, for additional legal information free of charge (includes a glossary of terms and some commonly-used forms)