Getting legal help

Criminal law

Legal Aid Ontario offers a range of services for criminal legal matters. You will get the legal help that best fits your situation. Services for eligible clients include:

Legal issues that we cover

You may qualify for a legal aid certificate if you’re financially eligible and you need a lawyer to represent you in one of these situations:

  • You face criminal charges that could send you to jail.

    Legal aid is available for serious criminal charges. You would likely have to go to jail if found guilty and convicted of these charges. A Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) lawyer may consult a list of circumstances to help decide whether your legal matter qualifies for legal aid services. LAO also consults its lists of Criminal Code charges. You can see whether the crime you are charged with could result in jail type by using this Criminal Code charge search:

    Criminal Code charge search

    Start typing the name of the crime you are charged with in the space below to begin your search.

  • You are at least 12 years of age but under 18, and charged with a crime under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

A serious crime does not mean a crime where the Crown is seeking a non-court alternative like diversion. Beyond these situations, Legal Aid has the discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to issue certificates in these situations:

  • You belong to a vulnerable client group where the allegations and facts of the case merit a trial.
  • You are a survivor of domestic violence without a criminal record who has been charged with assault against your abusive partner while defending yourself, and you identify as First Nation, Métis or Inuit, or have a continuing family matter with LAO; or have an ongoing refugee status claim. LAO provides this coverage because a conviction could affect a family court case, especially custody and access, as well as a child-protection proceeding.
  • You are in jail, awaiting a decision on bail or being denied bail. You may be able to get out of jail while you wait for a trial or bail hearing as follows:
    • You may be able to get a certificate to hire the lawyer who represented you on the charges that put you in jail, to represent you for a second bail hearing.
    • You may be able to get a certificate to hire a lawyer to change your bail conditions.

Legal aid services for criminal matters

Duty counsel

Do you have a low income and an immediate court date, but still need a lawyer? Read about our duty counsel program.

Summary advice

Eligible clients with criminal law issues may be able to speak with a lawyer for up to 20 minutes of summary advice and information, through the toll-free number. Call 1-800-668-8258 to see if you qualify. Summary advice can include information such as:

  • First appearance procedures
  • How to prepare for a pre-trial
  • Diversion
  • Bail information and process
  • Guilty pleas
  • Sentencing
  • General advice on legal options and possible outcomes
  • Certificate eligibility issues

Representation by a lawyer – the certificate program

The certificate program helps clients pay for a lawyer's services, and is only for the most serious and complex cases.

Your legal matter must be one that Legal Aid Ontario covers. Get information on whether you qualify for legal aid services if you have been charged with a crime.

In addition, you must be financially eligible to get help through the certificate program.

To apply for the certificate program, call Legal Aid Ontario toll-free at 1-800-668-8258.

Online legal information resources

Legal Aid Ontario's sister site, provides free online legal information for individuals with questions about criminal law in Ontario.

LawFacts is not legal advice, and is not designed as a substitute for advice from your lawyer or duty counsel, but it will help you understand the justice system so that you can make more informed choices about your next step.