Getting legal help

Criminal summary advice

If you have a criminal law issue, you may be able to get summary advice from a lawyer for up to 20 minutes. This service is provided over the phone—you do not meet the lawyer in person. To find out if you are eligible for summary advice, call Legal Aid Ontario toll-free at 1-800-668-8258.

Please remember that you must qualify financially to receive summary advice.

Learn more about how to get free help from a lawyer, also known as summary advice, to help you deal with your legal problem.

What kind of help can I get through criminal summary advice service?

Summary advice can include information about various legal issues and processes, such as:

  • the bail process
  • first appearance procedures
  • how to prepare for a pre-trial
  • diversion
  • guilty pleas
  • sentencing
  • peace Bonds
  • general advice on legal options and possible outcomes
  • certificate eligibility issues

When should I use summary advice?

If you are about to be charged with a criminal offence, you can get guidance on:

  • what your rights are if you are questioned by the police;
  • what will happen after you've been arrested and charged—how you may be eventually released after processing;
  • what documents you may be asked to sign;
  • making arrangements for a bail hearing if the police decide not to release you from the Division.

If you have been charged with an offence, and have a court date, or you are making your first court appearance, you can get information on:

  • what to expect when you attend court;
  • how to address the court,
  • instructions and documentation that you might bring with you;
  • offers that might be made to you by the prosecutor, also known as the Crown Attorney.

If you do not have a lawyer, summary advice can help answer questions about:

  • the purpose of disclosure, and an explanation of its contents;
  • notes made by the Crown on the screening form, and advice on what the Crown's position means;
  • information on the trial process such as:
    • how to present a legal defence;
    • advice about opening statements, cross-examination of crown witnesses, summarizing evidence and arguments that might be made to persuade the court; and
    • guidance on how to ask for leniency from the court if you are found guilty and are facing sentencing.

If your friend or family member is in custody, awaiting a bail hearing, summary advice can offer information on:

  • eligibility criteria for becoming a surety;
  • how to put together a plan of release to present to the court through duty counsel;
  • how to make arrangements that might improve the chance of bail being granted.

What happens when you call

Legal Aid Ontario offers a range of services over the phone. There is no financial eligibility test for general information and referrals.

A representative will ask you to describe your problem, and you may be asked questions to clarify your situation. You will also be asked personal questions such as your address, telephone number, age, and questions about your living arrangements.

The representative might decide another service, for instance duty counsel or the certificate program, is a better fit for you, and will direct you or your call to that service.

Getting summary advice

Once you have spoken with the client representative, they will direct your call to the summary advice team where appropriate. However, the service is popular, and you may have to wait to talk to a lawyer. Please be patient.

Depending on your situation, you will speak to either a lawyer, or a case coordinator. If all the staff are busy, you can choose to have someone call you back, usually on the same day. Please have a call back number ready when you call. At this time, voice messages or email requests cannot be accommodated.

Summary advice services are time-limited, and not all of your questions will be answered in the 20 minutes you have to speak with the lawyer.

If English is not your first language, interpreters are available in more than 200 languages.

Getting the most from your call

Call when you won't be distracted.

Try to call when it is quiet, so you can focus on the conversation with the lawyer. Children should be safely cared for so that you are not distracted. Allow enough time to have your intake completed (10 mins.), speak with the lawyer or case coordinator (20 mins.) and/or complete a brief service (20 mins.) all in one block of time.

Avoid calling from a cell phone without enough minutes.

If you are cut off, it may take some time to reconnect you with the lawyer who was dealing with your case. This is especially true at peak call times.

Have a pen and paper ready.

You will be given telephone numbers, web addresses, summaries of next steps and other instructions, which you will want to write down.

Ask questions and remember to read back instructions or other information you receive.

When something is explained, you should make notes so you can follow the instructions as given. Don't be afraid to ask questions if something doesn't make sense to you.

Important information

Please understand that you may not get the exact outcome or answer that you want, or expect. Sometimes the lawyer may suggest something which could be helpful, but you might wish to do something different. This is fine, as what we offer is advice. You will of course make your own personal decisions on your case.

Some legal cases are very complex, so it is not always possible to discuss all aspects of your legal situation over the phone. The time limits of this service require you to pick your most important issue(s) for assistance.

This service is not a substitute for hiring a lawyer of your choice if that is your preference. It is offered to provide you with a better understanding of what is involved both legally and procedurally when you face a criminal charge or charges.