Frequently Asked Questions

Applying for legal aid

13 Questions

Where can I speak to a lawyer about my rights?

If you need legal help on the day you are in criminal or family court, you can talk to our lawyers (they are called duty counsel) at the courthouse. If you have been arrested or are detained by police, tell the police officer you want to speak to a lawyer. The police officer will…

I have been refused legal aid. Can I appeal the decision?

You can appeal if your legal aid application has been refused. You have 15 days after getting your notice of refusal or cancellation. If you are in jail or hospitalized, you have 45 days to submit your appeal. Learn more about the appeal process.

I have a family court matter. Can I get legal aid help?

We might be able to help if you financially qualify and if: you are subjected to domestic abuse you want to separate from your husband, wife or partner you need to decide custody, support or access Children’s Aid has your children or contacted you

How do I apply for legal aid?

You can apply by: calling us at 1-800-668-8258 Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (The best time to call is between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. You can find our current wait time on our homepage.) if you are in jail or a detention centre , ask a legal aid worker to apply…

Children’s Aid contacted me. Can I get legal aid help?

If you financially qualify, then we can help you if you: want to see your children. want your children at home with you (you should call us as soon as you are contacted by Children’s Aid). are a family member or a member of the child’s Indigenous community and you…

How do I let Legal Aid know who my lawyer is?

If, when you apply, you have a lawyer you want to work with (and they do legal aid work), you can tell us when you apply for a certificate. If you choose a lawyer after you’ve received your certificate, you can call us to let us know who it is or you can give your…

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COVID-19 FAQs

5 Questions

COVID-19 FAQs: Immigration and Refugee Law

On this page: Refugee claims Refugee appeals Judicial reviews Immigration detention Deportations Work Permits / Study Permits / Visitors Extension H&C Application / Pre-Removal Risk Assessment application Interim Federal Health Benefits Refugee claims I made a claim at the…

COVID-19 FAQs: Criminal

On this page: Legal aid services Court appearances Bail Jails Legal aid services I need legal advice about my criminal case. Can I go to the duty counsel office at the courthouse to speak to someone? During this time, duty counsel offices at the courthouses are closed to…

COVID-19 FAQs: Family

On this page: Courts Access Support Serving documents Courts The courts are only hearing urgent matters. What counts as an urgent matter? The following are considered “urgent matters” in family court: anything relating to the safety of a child or parent anything about the…

COVID-19 FAQs: mental health

Is the Consent and Capacity Board (CCB) still holding hearings during the COVID‑19 crisis? Yes, but all hearings are now over teleconference with some limited availability for videoconferencing. Details for the remote hearing will be shared in your Notice of Hearing…

COVID-19 FAQs: legal aid services

I have a legal problem and also experiencing domestic abuse. How can I get legal aid help during this COVID‑19 crisis? You can call us at 1‑800-668‑8258 from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and we will ensure your application is processed…

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Criminal law

38 Questions

When does sentencing happen?

In most criminal cases, sentencing usually takes place right after an offender has pled guilty or been found guilty after a trial. In some cases, the judge will not impose a sentence right away, but will instead adjourn the case to a later date for a sentencing hearing….

When do people typically enter into peace bonds?

The two most common situations where people enter into peace bonds are: An accused agrees to enter into a peace bond because the Crown will agree to withdraw their charge(s) if they do so. This is the most common situation OR A peace bond hearing is held, and a judge or justice…

What is a sentencing hearing?

A sentencing hearing is where an offender is given a sentence by a judge. It may take place right after an offender has pled guilty or been found guilty—or it may be days, weeks or months afterward. Sentencing hearings can be very short (sometimes only a few minutes) or…

What is a conviction?

An offender who has a conviction registered against them will have a criminal record and will have to apply for a pardon to have the conviction removed. If a judge makes a finding of guilt and gives any sentence other than an absolute discharge or a conditional discharge, a…

What to do before your first appearance at criminal court

Whether you’re released by the police or on bail, you will get a piece of paper called a release document that gives you the: date time location of your first court date. What is first appearance? This is not your trial date. This is when you go to court to find out about the…

What is a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR)?

A Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) is a report prepared by a probation officer to help the judge decide what sentence to give. It is used to find out about an offender’s background. If a judge orders a PSR, a probation officer will interview the offender, the offender’s family,…

Firearm prohibitions

If an offender is found guilty of certain criminal offences, the judge may make an order preventing them from having things like guns, cross‑bows or ammunition for a period of time. Usually a firearms prohibition is for a number of years, but it can be for life. Criminal…

Conditional sentence (“house arrest”)

A conditional sentence is an imprisonment (jail) sentence, except that the offender serves the sentence outside of jail, under strict, jail‑like conditions. Conditional sentences are sometimes called “house arrest,” because they often require an offender to spend all or…

Conditional discharge

A conditional discharge is similar to an absolute discharge because a finding of guilt is made, but no conviction is registered. What makes it different from an absolute discharge is that there are conditions that the offender must follow. The conditions always come in a…

What is a surety?

A surety is a person who comes to court and promises to supervise an accused person while they are out on bail. A surety also promises an amount of money to the court if the accused doesn’t follow one or more of the bail conditions or doesn’t show up to court when…

What is a sentence?

A sentence is the penalty that is given to an offender who has pled guilty or who has been found guilty after a trial. A sentence is different from diversion or a peace bond because the judge must make a finding of guilt before a sentence can be given. Lawyers and judges will…

What are duty counsel?

Duty counsel are lawyers provided by Legal Aid Ontario who can assist you on the day that you are in court. If you do not have a lawyer and you are in court, duty counsel may be able to help you by: Giving you advice about your legal rights, obligations and the court process;…

When should an accused agree to enter into a peace bond?

The decision to enter into a peace bond or not depends on a lot of different things and is different in each case. Factors like the strength of the Crown’s case, personal circumstances, and risks of losing the case at trial are all things that might be considered. The decision…

What is a victim impact statement?

Some sentencing hearings involve a Victim Impact Statement (VIS). A VIS is usually written by the victim. This is done to allow the victim an opportunity to describe how they have been affected by the criminal offence. It can be read aloud by the victim or Crown or simply…

What is a peace bond?

A peace bond is a court order to keep the peace and be on good behaviour for a period of time. This essentially means that the person must not be charged with a criminal offence. Peace bonds often have other conditions too, such as not having any weapons or staying away from a…

What is a peace bond hearing?

Sometimes a person can be required to attend court for a peace bond hearing. This usually happens where a person has not been charged with an offence but a complaint has been made and the court requires them to respond to the complaint. The person making the complaint is called…

What is a joint submission?

A joint submission is when both the Crown and the offender’s lawyer (or duty counsel) agree on the sentence they are asking the judge to give. In most cases, a joint submission will have been agreed to by lawyers in a resolution meeting. However, even when the lawyers have a…

What is a finding of guilt?

A finding of guilt is a ruling made by a judge. A judge will make a finding of guilt in one of two situations: an accused has pled guilty and accepts facts that amount to a criminal offence; OR the Crown has proven at a trial that an accused committed a criminal offence. Except…

Restitution orders

A restitution order is an order to pay money to the victim of a criminal offence. It is different from a fine or a charitable donation. A restitution order is often made when the judge wants the offender to pay to repair or replace something that was damaged, or to compensate for…

Probation

Probation is a court order to do (or not do) certain things for a period of time. It is usually called a probation order. An offender who gets a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence will always have a probation order that they must follow. A probation order can also be…

Is agreeing to a peace bond the same thing as pleading guilty?

No. A person does not plead guilty when they enter into a peace bond. There is no finding of guilt made or conviction registered if a person agrees to a peace bond. One of the reasons why a person may agree to enter a peace bond is to avoid a criminal record. While a peace…

Imprisonment (jail)

Imprisonment is a jail sentence. After a judge gives a jail sentence, the offender is taken to jail and a conviction is registered against them. An offender has to apply for a pardon in order to have a jail sentence removed from their record. If an offender is sent to jail for…

Fine

A fine is an amount of money that an offender must pay to the court. It is different from restitution or a charitable donation. If an offender is given a fine, they will have a conviction registered against them and will have to apply for a pardon to have the fine removed from…

Driving prohibitions

If an offender is found guilty of certain criminal offences, the judge may prevent them from driving for a period of time. This is called a driving prohibition. If the offence is a “drinking and driving” offence the judge must impose a driving prohibition. Depending on the…

Do you have to deposit money if you agree to a peace bond?

Generally, a person entering into a peace bond doesn’t have to deposit money with the court. However, they do need to pledge an amount of money to the court—usually $500 or $1000, but the amount can be higher or lower. A peace bond is a recognizance, similar to a recognizance…

DNA orders

A DNA order, made by a judge, allows the police to take a sample of bodily substances (such as saliva or blood) from an offender. The substance is taken for the purpose of creating a DNA profile, which is stored in a databank. The databank is maintained by the RCMP and can be…

Suspended sentence

Like a conditional discharge, a suspended sentence involves following conditions in a probation order for a period of one to three years. The main difference between a conditional discharge and a suspended sentence is that an offender who gets a suspended sentence has a…

Intermittent sentence (“weekends”)

An intermittent sentence is a jail sentence that the offender serves in ”chunks” of time, instead of all at once. For example, if an offender gets an intermittent sentence, they may go jail on the weekends, (i.e., Friday night until Monday morning) but be out of jail…

Absolute discharge

An absolute discharge is the lowest‑level adult sentence that an offender can get. If an offender gets an absolute discharge, a finding of guilt is made but no conviction is registered, and they are not given any conditions to follow (i.e. a probation order). The…

Diversion

Diversion is when you are offered a chance to do something like community service or counselling to have your charge withdrawn (which means it will be dropped permanently) or stayed (put on hold for up to a year). Sometimes, the Crown can see that a case does not need to be dealt…

What should I do if I’ve been asked to make a charitable donation?

It is up to you to provide proof of any charitable donation that you make. As with community service, a charitable donation must be made to a non‑profit community or charitable organization, not at a business or other type of for‑profit organization. Giving money to a…

Bail hearings

A bail hearing is when a judge decides whether you should either be kept in jail or allowed to go back to the community while your case is in criminal court. After a bail hearing, you may get bail, which is a court order that lets you stay in the community while your case is…

Guilty pleas

You do not have to plead guilty. Remember: it is up to the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed an offence. This means that either a judge or a jury is absolutely certain that you broke the law and also knew you were breaking the law. If the judge…

Criminal charge process

If you cannot afford a lawyer, call us to find out if you’re eligible for legal help. If you qualify for legal aid, we may either cover the cost of a lawyer to represent you or you can visit one of our lawyers at court (they’re called duty counsel) who can give you some advice…

Restraining orders

Are you worried that your partner or your ex will hurt you or your children? You can get a restraining order from a family court judge, which means that the person you’re getting it for won’t be able to: come within a certain distance of you and your children come within a…

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Domestic abuse

2 Questions

Restraining orders

Are you worried that your partner or your ex will hurt you or your children? You can get a restraining order from a family court judge, which means that the person you’re getting it for won’t be able to: come within a certain distance of you and your children come within a…

Family law

11 Questions

I have a family court matter. Can I get legal aid help?

We might be able to help if you financially qualify and if: you are subjected to domestic abuse you want to separate from your husband, wife or partner you need to decide custody, support or access Children’s Aid has your children or contacted you

Children’s Aid contacted me. Can I get legal aid help?

If you financially qualify, then we can help you if you: want to see your children. want your children at home with you (you should call us as soon as you are contacted by Children’s Aid). are a family member or a member of the child’s Indigenous community and you…

Starting a family court case

For any family court case, there are Family Law Rules that have to be followed. In those rules, you can find out the exact steps of a case and what forms you will need to complete. Tip: the family court forms match the family law rule number. For example, rule 8 is about starting…

Serving court documents

Serving court documents or “service” is when you give a copy of all the documents in your case to the other person in your case, who is known as the other party. You have to serve your documents to the other party because that person has a right to: know about a case that has…

Simple divorce

A simple divorce is also known as an uncontested divorce, which is when you and your ex agree to divorce. This is different from a contested divorce, which is when you and your ex do not agree to all the issues raised by the divorce. This could include disagreements about child…

Child support

Child support is the amount of money that one parent pays to the other parent to help pay for the costs of caring for the child. Usually, the “payor parent” either spends less time with the children or, if they spend an equal amount of time with the children, makes more…

Child custody

Custody is about making major decisions about how to care for and raise your children. These decisions could include: Health care Religion or spirituality Education Custody is not about where the child lives. For example you could have sole custody and are the only…

Child access

Access is the right to visit—or be visited by—your children. It also means the right to get information on your child’s health, education and well‑being. People often get confused by custody and access. Custody is when you have the right to make decisions…

Mediation

Mediation is a process where a trained professional helps you and your ex to settle a variety of issues. Mediation might be right for you if you have no concerns for your safety and you and your ex are both open to working together. Mediation is a good alternative to going to…

Separation

Separation is when you and your ex—you can either be married or common‑law—decide to live apart. If you’re married, being separated doesn’t mean your marriage has ended. A divorce is when a court officially ends your marriage. How do you…

Questions about serving family court documents

What is service? What is serving documents? This is the process of giving a copy of the documents in your family case to the other party. What is personal service? It’s when the person who gives a copy of the documents does it in‑person and by hand-delivering a copy to…

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Where can I speak to a lawyer about my rights?

If you need legal help on the day you are in criminal or family court, you can talk to our lawyers (they are called duty counsel) at the courthouse. If you have been arrested or are detained by police, tell the police officer you want to speak to a lawyer. The police officer will…

Can I change my lawyer?

In rare cases, we allow you to change your lawyer.  You must choose your lawyer carefully as we do not always allow you to change. Decisions to change your lawyer may take up to six weeks.

Where can I get help if my refugee claim was denied?

If you qualify for legal aid, we will pay for a lawyer. This lawyer has to accepts legal aid work (not all lawyers do legal aid work).  You can search our Find a Lawyer tool to find a lawyer near you. Number us to see if you qualify.

I am being deported. Can I get legal aid help?

If you financially qualify for legal aid, we will pay for a lawyer. This lawyer has to be somebody who accepts legal aid work (not all lawyers do legal aid work). You can search our Find a Lawyer tool to help you find a lawyer. Call us to see if you qualify.

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Indigenous people

14 Questions

What are Gladue reports?

Gladue reports and plans contain information on the unique circumstances of Aboriginal people accused of an offence or Aboriginal offenders. The court can consider these reports during sentencing. Sentencing in the Gladue court focuses on restorative justice and community justice…

Where are Gladue services available?

Gladue‑related services are offered at courts in Toronto, Hamilton, Brantford, the Waterloo‑Wellington area, London, and Sarnia. In Toronto, London, and Sarnia there are dedicated Gladue courts. There are also Aboriginal Courtwork programs in many courts across Canada.

What is a Gladue court?

A Gladue court handles the cases of Aboriginal people who have been charged with a criminal offence. The Gladue court proposes sentences that are more in line with Aboriginal traditions than jail, such as community justice programs.

What is Gladue?

Gladue refers to a right that Aboriginal people have under the Criminal Code. Gladue applies to all Aboriginal people who self‑identify as First Nations, Métis, or Inuit. In‑depth information about Gladue is available in the BC Legal Services Society Gladue Primer.

How is Gladue applied in Canadian courts?

In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in R v. Gladue that courts must consider an Aboriginal offender’s background when he or she is being sentenced for a crime. Factors that are considered include discrimination, physical abuse, separation from culture or family, or drug and…

Does Legal Aid Ontario offer legal services for Aboriginal people?

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) provides eligible Aboriginal people with family and criminal law services. To provide the best service possible, lawyers who represent Aboriginal legal aid clients in criminal matters must take special training to make sure they understand the unique legal…

What does it mean for an Aboriginal person to self-identify?

If you are an Aboriginal person entering the justice system, you should identify yourself as a First Nations, Métis, or Inuit person so duty counsel or your lawyer can follow the areas of law that deal with Aboriginal rights. In other words, you should tell duty counsel or…

Where can I find legal services and resources for Aboriginal people?

There are many community-based legal services and resources available for Aboriginal people in Ontario. Aboriginal Legal Services Operates legal-related programs for Aboriginal people in Toronto. Human Rights Legal Support Offers legal assistance to people in communities across…

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Mental health law

29 Questions

What is a treatment order and/or a treatment order hearing?

A treatment order, which is made by a judge, requires an unfit accused to be made fit to stand trial through psychiatric treatment. It is a unique circumstance where the accused does not have a choice in receiving treatment. Treatment orders almost always include a requirement…

What is an NCR assessment?

An NCR assessment can be ordered by a judge to determine whether a person who was suffering from a mental disorder at the time they committed an offence was criminally responsible for his or her actions. Much like a fitness assessment, in most cases the person being assessed is…

What happens if an accused is found “fit” after a fitness hearing?

If an accused is found “fit” after a fitness hearing, the accused will continue through the system as any other person would. This means that they may seek to have a bail hearing, set a trial date, plead guilty or simply adjourn their case to another day. Even if an accused…

What does “unfit to stand trial” mean?

“Unfit to stand trial” is defined in the Criminal Code. It means that the accused person is unable, because of a mental disorder, to defend against the charge(s) they are facing or to tell their lawyer what they want to do with their case. Specifically, “unfit to stand…

How long is a treatment order for?

Treatment orders can only be for a maximum of 60 days. In some cases the accused is returned to court after being made “fit” by the treatment before the 60 day period is up.

How does a judge determine whether to order a fitness assessment?

In order to decide whether or not there are reasonable grounds to believe the accused is “unfit to stand trial” and order an assessment, the judge or the accused’s lawyer may ask the accused things like: Do you know what you’re charged with? Do you know what the job of…

Mental Health Act examinations – What is the Mental Health Act?

Ontario’s Mental Health Act, like the Criminal Code, gives courts certain powers to have an accused person sent to a hospital for a psychiatric examination. It also gives police officers and doctors certain powers to have someone sent for a psychiatric assessment. At the same…

When will an NCR assessment usually be requested?

If an NCR assessment is requested by either the Crown or the accused’s lawyer, it will usually be after the accused has pled guilty or has been found guilty after a trial, and there is some evidence to suggest that they were suffering from a mental disorder at the time they…

When will a judge usually make a fitness assessment order?

Judges can make a fitness assessment order at any point from the time an accused first appears in court, right up to (or during) sentencing. Most fitness assessments are usually ordered shortly after an accused has made an appearance in bail court. In fact, if a fitness…

What is mental health diversion?

Mental health diversion is a type of diversion. Mental health diversion involves a way of resolving or dealing with criminal charges in a manner that doesn’t involve a guilty plea or a trial. Usually an accused person will have to take responsibility for their actions. Just as…

What is mental health court?

Many courthouses across Ontario now have mental health courts. Mental health courts are criminal law courts created to help deal with accused persons who have mental health and other related issues. Depending on the courthouse that you are in, the mental health court may or may…

What is a fitness hearing?

A fitness hearing is like a short trial where a judge decides whether or not an accused is “unfit to stand trial”. This occurs after the accused has been assessed by a psychiatrist, and has returned to court. Unlike an actual criminal trial, it is only necessary to prove the…

What is a “fitness to stand trial” assessment?

This type of assessment is probably the most common situation when a judge wants to determine whether or not an accused is “unfit to stand trial”. This type of assessment is usually called a “fitness to stand trial” assessment, or simply a “fitness assessment”, or a…

What does NCR mean?

NCR stands for “Not Criminally Responsible.” It is defined in section 16 of the Criminal Code. Section 16 of the Criminal Code states that a person is not criminally responsible for something that he or she did (or didn’t do, if they were legally required to do something)…

How long is an examination under the Mental Health Act for?

An examination under s. 22 cannot be longer than two months. The judge can make the examination for a shorter period if he or she wishes. This is usually only an issue if an in‑custody examination order is made under section 22 of the MHA.

How long is a fitness assessment for?

The length of a fitness assessment mostly depends on whether or not the accused agrees with the order. If the accused agrees with the order (either personally or though his/her lawyer), then the order can be for up to 30 days, not including holidays and the time needed to…

Can duty counsel assist with getting an NCR assessment order?

No. There are too many serious long-term consequences that can come from an NCR assessment for duty counsel to assist with this type of matter. If either an unrepresented accused or the Crown is seeking an NCR assessment, duty counsel will not assist. An accused should have his…

What happens in mental health court?

Many different criminal court proceedings can happen in mental health court. Some mental health courts deal only with assessment orders or mental health diversion. Other mental health courts do almost everything, including bail hearings, guilty pleas, judicial pre‑trials, and…

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Other legal issues

5 Questions

I want to make a will and power of attorney. Where can I get help?

You may be able to get help with your will and power of attorney from: a legal clinic Pro Bono Ontario Pro Bono Students Canada You can find information about wills and power of attorneys through the Ministry of the Attorney General and the website, Your Legal Rights.

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