Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) offers a variety of legal services for low income residents of Ontario including:
Duty counsel services located at Family or Criminal court and at the Landlord and Tenant Board
A Legal Aid Certificate program that covers the cost of retaining a lawyer to assist with certain complex and serious family and/or criminal law matters beyond the scope of duty counsel services
Community legal clinics such as Rural Legal Services (soon to be known as The Legal Clinic) funded by LAO to represent low income Ontarians with a variety of legal issues including landlord & tenant, Ontario Disability Support Program and Canada Pension Plan Disability matters, employment law, wills and powers of attorney, consumer matters, criminal injuries compensation etc.
Until a few years ago, people applying for a legal aid certificate would visit a local area office to complete an application. Residents of Frontenac County had to travel to Kingston.
More recently, LAO closed and replaced all but nine of its area offices (including the office in Kingston) with a call centre system operated through the Client Service Centre (CSC) as part of its ongoing modernization strategy to improve access, enhance capacity and increase efficiency (i.e. reduce bricks and mortar costs). To apply for a legal aid certificate, LAO encourages people to call the Client Service Centre toll free number: 1-800-668-8258. In-person applications can also be made at the courts on certain days on a first-come first-served basis. For example, a legal aid worker is available on Wednesday afternoons from 1- 4 p.m. at the Kingston Family Court and at the Criminal Court in Kingston from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
When calling the CSC, or applying in person at the court, you will be asked about your income to determine if you qualify financially. If you are financially eligible, you will then be asked about your legal problem. Legal aid certificates are not issued for all types of criminal and/or family law problems. Your case must also have some merit (a reasonable chance of success) and the CSC often refers callers to duty counsel (in Frontenac that means traveling to the courts in Kingston, or to Napanee if you live in Lennox & Addington) to have the merits of the case assessed. You may also be transferred to an advice lawyer at the CSC who can provide up to 20 minutes of summary legal advice and information.
If you are found eligible for a certificate you will be asked to provide the name of the lawyer who will represent you. Not all lawyers accept legal aid certificates. A lawyer who accepts a certificate will be paid by LAO for a set number of hours to work on your case.
Family law matters that may qualify for a certificate include victims of domestic violence with dependant children, as well as other more complex child custody, child support and access cases. Simple divorces are generally not covered.
With criminal law matters, priority is given to people who are already incarcerated and are having difficulty obtaining bail, or who, if convicted, are likely to be jailed. Priority is also given to people of Aboriginal descent. A first offence for impaired driving is not eligible for a certificate.
Other factors that may be considered in determining eligibility for a certificate include mental health problems, learning disabilities and distance from the nearest court and accessibility of duty counsel services.
If you have applied for a certificate and been refused, you can appeal the decision to Legal Aid Ontario. The appeal must be in writing and made within 15 days of your receiving a written notice of the decision.
If you would like more information about applying for a legal aid certificate, or an appeal if you have been refused a certificate, you can call the CSC at 1-800-668-8258, speak with duty counsel in the courts or contact this clinic at 613-279-3252 (toll free-1-888-777-8916).