How to Apply for Legal Aid in Ontario
by: Victoria Braillard Poccard, Co-op Student
Legal Aid Ontario promotes access to justice for economically disadvantaged people facing criminal charges. The program was created for people who do not earn enough income to afford a private lawyer.
If you are a Legal Aid Ontario client and have current files with us, we can apply for a Legal Aid certificate on your behalf. If we do apply on your behalf, the chances of being approved are the same as if you did it on your own.
If you’ve never applied for Legal Aid Ontario funding before, you might find the process confusing. Here you will find the steps simplified:
How do I apply for Legal Aid Ontario funding?
- Contact Legal Aid Ontario by phone at 416-979-1446 or toll free at 1-800-668-8258.
- If you or a loved one has trouble getting through to Legal Aid from inside a detention centre, call our office for assistance.
- If you are out of custody, you have the option to apply online through Legal Aid Ontario’s website.
- Legal Aid will ask you for personal information such as your legal name, date of birth, charges, and criminal record history
- Tell them who you wish to retain as your lawyer. This is important because Legal Aid Ontario will notify the lawyer you wish to retain. At Derstine Penman, we ask our clients to name either Dirk Derstine or Jennifer Penman on their certificates.
- With both in and out of custody clients, the lawyer will then choose to either acknowledge or deny the certificate.
What makes me eligible/ineligible for a certificate?
- To be eligible for Legal Aid Ontario funding, you must meet the basic minimum financial requirements. Check out the Legal Aid Ontario website for the most up-to-date financial cut-offs here.
- You are ineligible if you do not meet the basic minimum income requirements or if you are not likely to face any jail time on your charge(s).
- Legal Aid may ask for your criminal record to determine if you are likely to face jail.
- If it is revealed that you earn income above the cut-off levels and/or own assets that exceed the exemption level, you may be denied funding.
Why would my certificate be cancelled?
- Keep in mind that the lawyer you list on your certificate will either choose to acknowledge or deny your certificate.
- Lawyers can choose to deny a certificate for a variety of reasons: for example, if there is a conflict of interest that prevents the lawyer from acting for both you and another client at their firm.
- Legal Aid Ontario can find out you are financially ineligible through a financial reassessment or if you don’t submit a requested Consent and Declaration Form (this consent form gives LAO permission to examine your financial records).
How do I change lawyers?
- If you wish to switch to another lawyer that also accepts Legal Aid certificates, you must complete and send an application to Legal Aid to make this change. This application is called a Change of Solicitor Application. Once you’ve completed and sent in your application to Legal Aid, there will be a waiting period for both the new firm and Legal Aid to approve the request.
- If you wish to change from a Legal Aid funded lawyer to a private lawyer (a lawyer that does not accept Legal Aid Ontario payments), your current lawyer will make an application to remove themselves from the record in court. If the application is approved in court, you are now free to retain another lawyer privately.
What’s a Client Number or a Certificate Number?
- Client Number: Legal Aid Ontario will give each client a number which allows them to be identified in the Legal Aid Ontario system. This will be given to you when you first apply for a certificate. It starts with the letters “CLT” and will remain the same throughout all your certificates.
- Certificate Number: After you’ve been approved for a Legal Aid certificate, you will be issued a certificate number. This number starts with “CE” and a new certificate number is generated with each Legal Aid certificate you are issued.
- Each certificate is unique and contains a set of charges in a given area/jurisdiction.
- One certificate might not have all the charges one is currently charged with.
- If you wish to retain Derstine Penman and already have a client number or certificate number, have these handy when you call us so we can make the retainer process speedy for you.
What information do I need when applying?
If applying in person at the Legal Aid Ontario office, you should bring the following items:
- Identification, such as a social insurance card, driver’s license, health card, or permanent resident c
- Any documents relating to your case, such as court orders, a copy of the Crown Screening Form for criminal charges, a copy of any police summons, indictments, charges or any other documents related to your case.
- Proof of your current income if you have any, such as recent pay stubs, social assistance cheque stubs, or Employment Insurance statements.
- Proof of your monthly expenses and bills, including rent receipts or mortgage payments, bills, car payment receipts, credit card statements and car insurance bills.
- If you own your home, the deed to your home.
- Proof of any unusual expenses such as medical costs.
If you are applying over the phone:
- If you are working, you may be asked to mail in three or four paystubs.
- If you are self-employed, you might be asked to mail in a recent financial statement.
- If you receive assistance from the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works, your social assistance status will be verified over the phone.xx
If you have any issues applying for Legal Aid in Ontario, please call us at 416-304-1414 so we can help you. Everybody deserves a legal defence.