Getting legal help

Criminal duty counsel

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, and you have a court date but you don’t have a lawyer, criminal duty counsel may be able to assist you. In criminal cases, duty counsel advise people about the charge(s) against them and provide information about basic court procedure. You must be financially eligible for some types of duty counsel assistance.

Criminal duty counsel are lawyers who can:

  • give advice about legal rights, obligations and the court process
  • provide assistance in the courtroom for bail hearings and sentencing
  • assist with diversion, guilty pleas and adjournments

Criminal duty counsel may also provide assistance in specialized courts such as mental health, drug treatment, domestic violence and Aboriginal persons (Gladue) court. Duty counsel can also assist youth (a person who is under 18) who have been charged with a criminal offence.

Criminal duty counsel can also refer you to Legal Aid Ontario’s certificate program or another criminal law service.

Getting ready for your first court appearance

Duty counsel can give immediate legal assistance to low-income people who appear in court without a lawyer.

Speak to criminal duty counsel about your matter on the day of your court date, before the time of your scheduled court appearance. Try to come at least 30 minutes before court starts if you want to speak with duty counsel.

Bring all documents, including your disclosure. This will allow criminal duty counsel to provide more specific advice about the case. If you do not have these documents, criminal duty counsel can still give general advice about the process and your legal options.

Find out more about preparing for court.