Legal Aid Lawyer Toronto
When facing criminal charges, it is sometimes the case that a person is unable to afford a criminal defence lawyer. If you find yourself in this position, then Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) may be an option; provided you meet certain financial and legal criteria.
Legal Aid Ontario is a provincially funded and regulated program that offers legal assistance to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. In the criminal law context, if you apply to LAO and meet the financial and legal eligibility requirements then you will be granted a Legal Aid certificate. If the legal aid lawyer you choose accepts your legal aid certificate, then your lawyer’s fees will be covered by legal aid.
Many lawyers at Caramanna Friedberg proudly accept legal aid certificates – location permitting. Access to justice is something our lawyers passionately believe in. With that said, prospective clients need to know the eligibility requirements for legal aid. Clients often assume that they will qualify for a certificate simply because the cost of a lawyer seems high. Potential clients may not realize that more goes into determining eligibility than merely being unable or unwilling to pay for a lawyer.
First and foremost, in the criminal law context, LAO is reserved for those who are either facing jail time, belong to a vulnerable group, are between the ages of 12 – 17, and or facing severe immigration consequences if found guilty. This is what we consider to be the legal eligibility requirement.
The Crown does not always seek jail as a punishment. There are a myriad of factors which go into deciding what punishment is appropriate for an individual accused. Aggravating factors, mitigating factors, the personal history of an accused, whether an accused has a criminal record, mental health issues, etc. are all considered when the Crown decides on an appropriate punishment. The Crown may seek a discharge, a suspended sentence, a fine, restitution, or probation among other sentencing options.
If you identify as First Nations, Inuit, or Metis; are dealing with mental health issues; dealing with substance abuse issues; or are experiencing family violence, then you may meet the legal eligibility requirement.
If you are between the ages of 12 and 17 and are being charged with an offence under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, you may meet the legal eligibility requirement.
If you are facing deportation with a finding of guilt, then you may meet the legal eligibility requirement.
You must also meet what is known as the financial eligibility requirement in addition to the legal eligibility requirement.
In terms of the financial eligibility requirement, there is a cut-off based on the amount of money your family earns in a year as well as the number of family members in your home. LAO will calculate the gross family income of your household: you will be required to inform legal aid how many people live in your household and the income of each family member. LAO will require that you send them proof- this can be through bank statements, tax returns, or information about your mortgage if you have one.
If you exceed the financial limit, you may still qualify under either a contribution agreement or a lien. A contribution agreement is a loan by LAO to you to assist in retaining a lawyer. You will be required to pay that money back in monthly installments. The amount you will be required to pay back per month would be determined by your gross family income. If you own property and exceed the financial limit, then you may still qualify if you agree to put a lien on your property: when you sell your property, legal aid will be a creditor and will take a portion of the proceeds of the sale of your property to cover the costs of the certificate.
Facing criminal charges can be one of the most stressful things that ever happens to a person in their lifetime. In addition to the fact that you may be facing a harsh criminal sentence, there is also the fact that one does not tend to understand the legal process- especially when it is happening to them personally. Another source of anxiety with the criminal process is the fact that you may not be able to afford a lawyer at the time where you most certainly need one. If you find yourself in this situation and feel that you meet the criteria, then please call Legal Aid. If you are granted a certificate, our legal aid lawyers at Caramanna Friedberg will gladly accept and acknowledge it – location permitting - and then get right to work so that you can obtain the best possible result for your case.
To discuss more, get in touch with us.