Legal Aid and You. How to get Legal Aid assistance.
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Legal Aid: What You Need to Know

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You do not have to hire any specific lawyer which Legal Aid, or anyone else, recommends to you.
In criminal cases you have the absolute right to be represented by the lawyer of your choice.

Can you get Legal Aid?

Generally speaking Legal Aid discriminates against men and prefers to give help to women and visible minorities

For some time now, most men could get not Legal Aid for family law or domestic violence matters. This may still be the case. Do not count on fairness if you are a man in family law or especially if you are charged with Domestic Violence. Men are automatically guilty as accused of DV no matter what the law says. Women almost always get off.

  • Here is what the Ontario Legal Aid office says:
  • "Legal Aid offers different kinds of help, depending on your legal problem. You may need a lawyer to go to court with you, or you may just need some advice or some assistance with court documents.
  • "You may be able to get Legal Aid to pay for a lawyer if:
  • "You have little or no money left after you pay for basic necessities, like food and housing, and your legal problem is one that Legal Aid covers
  • "People with no income or on social assistance almost always qualify financially for Legal Aid. But you may be able to get Legal Aid even if you have a job and own a house.
  • " Legal aid staff will look at your personal financial circumstances to decide if you qualify. Every situation is different. It all depends on your family responsibilities and your monthly expenses. "
Much of this page is adapted from an Ontario Legal Aid brochure. The information here generally applies in all provinces across Canada.

How to get Legal Aid assistance.

Legal Aid is intended to make sure that people who do not have money to pay a lawyer can still have access to the justice system.

Even if you own a house, have a "good" job you may still qualify for Legal Aid to cover all or part of your legal bills. Do not assume you do not qualify. Apply and let Legal Aid tell you.

How you you apply for Legal Aid?

Call and make an appointment if possioble. Then go to your local Legal Aid office and speak to a staff person.

What do you need to bring with you?

  • some form of identification such as your social insurance card, driver's licenser. birth certificate or landed immigrant papers.
  • any documents relating to your case, such as court orders. separation agreements
  • proof of income if you have any (3-4 recent pay stubs, welfare cheque stubs or employment Insurance statements)
  • proof of monthly expenses and bills (rent receipt, mortgage payment, hydro, gas, car payment receipts of canceled cheques, credit card statements, car insurance bill)
  • deed for your house.

How long does it take?

Normally it takes two or three weeks to process your application. Your lawyer cannot officially start working on your file until s/he has a Legal Aid certificate.

Make sure to tell Legal Aid staff if your situation is an emergency. The staff will help your fill out an application and may be able to tell you right away whether you can get Legal Aid. If you already have a lawyer, Legal Aid will mail the certificate directly to your lawyers. If you do not have a lawyer, you contact one while you wait for your certificate.

It takes two or three weeks to get a Legal Aid certificate. If you will require Legal Aid, apply for it promptly. The process can take time and your lawyer cannot start work on your case until you have a Legal Aid Certificate.

Apply As Soon As Possible:

If you think you are eligible for Legal Aid, you should apply as soon as possible.

If and when approved, take your Legal Aid certificate to the lawyer of your choice.

While there are rules about who may qualify and under what circumstance, the Legal Aid plan has the "right" to change the rules at any time and often does.

Budget constraints, political considerations and the women's rights movement have enormous impact on how Legal Aid officials conduct themselves and on deciding who gets Legal Aid and who does not. Mothers can usually get Legal Aid for family law matters when fathers in the same circumstances cannot.

Although not all lawyers accept Legal Aid, a majority do.


Do you qualify for Legal Aid?

    You may be able to get Legal Aid to pay for a lawyer if:
  • Your legal situation is urgent and serious and you have little or no money left after you pay for the necessities like food and housing.

  • People with no income of on social assistance usually qualify financially for Legal Aid. You may be able to get Legal Aid even if you have some money in the bank and/or a house.

The Legal Aid office will look at your personal financial circumstances to decide if you qualify. Every situation is different. It all depends on your family responsibilities and your monthly expenses.

What kind of cases are covered?

If you qualify financially, Legal Aid may be able to pay your lawyer for some of these things. This is not a complete list. Please talk to you Legal Aid office about your specific case.

  • For Criminal Charges
  • any offense which likely result in jail time (e.g. assault, impaired driving causing bodily harm, robbery, welfare fraud, break and enter
  • In Family Matters:
  • to get custody of your children or to change custody
  • to get a restraining order against your partner
  • to remove your partner from your home, in cases of physical abuse.
  • to establish or to change support payments for you and your child
  • to establish access to your children where no arrangements have already been made
  • to help with custody and access rights if your partner is likely to move far away so you can't see your children to threatens to take your children away from you
  • to help if your partner denies you access to your child
  • to change access from supervised to non-supervised
  • to stop your partner from selling or destroying your property
  • to negotiate property issues, including RRSP's and pensions
  • In Immigration and refugee matters
  • refugee hearings before the Immigration and refugee Board
  • sponsorship appeals
  • deportation appeals and submissions to the Minister of Immigration for deportation appeals
  • For Other Civil Cases
  • Workers' Compensation
  • mental health hearings and appeals
  • parole hearings and appeals
  • damage claims
Do you have to pay anything?

Legal aid is usually free to people with little income or money. People who have a little money but not enough to hire a lawyer may have to pay some money

If you do have to pay, you will be asked to sign a Payment Agreement which says that you agree to:

  • pay Legal Aid a certain amount every month: or
  • pay Legal Aid a lump sum of money; or
  • have a lien put on your house or property. The lien says that you will pay Legal Aid back when you sell or refinance your house, when you renew the mortgage on your house or within five years, whichever comes first.
What if you are turned down for Legal Aid?

You can appeal. If you are turned down for legal aid. you can go back to the Legal Aid office and ask to fill out an appeal form. After you have filled out the appeal form, you will get an appointment to speak to the area committee, usually in about two or three weeks. You have to tell the committee, which is usually a group of three lawyers, why you are appealing the decision.

Where else can you get help? If you do not qualify for Legal Aid, Community Legal Clinics may be able to help you. The clinics have lawyers and trained legal workers to give you advice and represent you. These clinics usually deal with housing, (landlord and tenant) social assistance (welfare), pension, Worker's Compensation, employment insurance and immigration and employment rights issues. You will have to complete a financial test to make sure you qualify for their service.

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