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THE LAW SOCIETY OF UPPER CANADA MANAGES THE ONTARIO LEGAL AID PLAN. THE PURPOSE OF LEGAL AID IS TO HELP PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE MONEY TO PAY A LAWYER. An Overview of the Certificate Program

Legal aid certificates are awarded based on financial need. Each application is evaluated individually. People with no income or who are on social assistance are usually eligible. If your legal bill will make it hard for you to pay for necessities such as food and housing, you may also be eligible.

Legal aid also looks at whether you have dependents (for example, children). If 2 people with the same level of income apply for legal aid, the person who must use that income to support children or parents is more likely to qualify for assistance. If you are a newcomer with relatives in Canada, you may have to prove that your relatives cannot afford to pay your legal fees in order to get legal aid.

Certificates may not cover all fees and expenses.

Sometimes a certificate is awarded, but on the condition that you repay legal aid over time. This is most likely if you have assets, such as a house or property. If you go to court and receive money as part of a settlement, you will likely have to repay part or all of your legal aid costs.

Legal aid certificates are awarded for certain types of law:

  1. Criminal charges that are serious enough to include jail time, could cause you to lose your job or be deported
  2. Family law, especially issues around child custody or access, support payments, or division of property at the end of a relationship
  3. Hearings and appeals for Social Assistance Benefits, Employment Insurance and Workers' Safety Insurance
  4. Immigration and refugee matters, including refugee hearings with the Immigration and Refugee Board, sponsorship and deportation appeals and detention reviews.

There are legal aid offices that specialize in specific areas of law. In Toronto, if you are awarded a certificate for a family law matter, you can take it to the Family Law Office. Refugee claimants can take a certificate awarded for an immigration-related issue to the Refugee Law Office.

Not all lawyers accept legal aid certificates. It is important to indicate that you have applied for or have received a certificate when you are contacting a lawyer. The lawyer referral service can provide you with the name of a lawyer who accepts certificates.

If you want to change lawyers, contact Legal Aid Ontario first. Sometimes LAO will not allow you to transfer your certificate if you change lawyers.

Applying for a Legal Aid Certificate

To apply for a certificate, look under "Legal Aid" in the white pages of your phone book and contact the nearest Legal Aid Office.

When you visit the office, be sure to take all documents related to your legal situation. Clinic staff will also need to see documents related to your financial situation in order to help assess if you are eligible for legal aid. You might want to have an interpreter go with you if you are uncomfortable explaining your situation in English.

If legal aid has agreed to give you a certificate, they will mail it to you. You should receive it in about 2 weeks. After you receive it, you should submit it to a lawyer within 30 days. After 30 days, the certificate may expire and you might have to reapply.

Legal aid is available for both criminal and civil law problems. Immigration and refugee legal matters and divorce are examples of possible civil law problems.

For more information, look up "Legal Aid" in the business white pages of your local phone book, or call or visit:

  1. Toll free in Ontario: 1-800-387-2992
  2. In Toronto: 416-598-0200
  3. List of Legal Aid Offices in Ontario

Find more information, including who can apply and how to apply, on the Legal Aid Ontario website.


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