What is legal aid?
If you have a legal problem but you can’t
afford a lawyer, the Legal Services Society — an independent, non-profit
organization that provides legal help for people in BC — may pay for a
lawyer for you. This is called legal aid. You must qualify under legal aid
guidelines to get a legal aid lawyer.
Private lawyers who take legal aid cases or
staff lawyers who work for LSS handle criminal and family law matters.
Private lawyers who take legal aid cases provide immigration law services.
You can get legal aid if —
your legal problem is covered by legal aid rules,
your income and the value of your property fall below a certain limit, and
you have no other way of getting legal help.
kind of problems are covered?
What legal problems are covered by legal
The Legal Services Society will appoint a
lawyer for you if you are financially eligible and your legal problem is
covered under legal aid rules. Problems that may be covered include:
Legal aid will cover your criminal case if
you will, if convicted —
go to jail,
lose your way of earning a living,
face an immigration proceeding that could
lead to your deportation from Canada.
You may get legal aid if you —
have a mental or emotional illness that
makes it impossible for you to represent yourself,
are Aboriginal and the case affects your
ability to follow a traditional livelihood of hunting and fishing,
face a Mental Health Review Panel or a BC
Review Board Hearing, or
face prison issues for which the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms provides the right to a lawyer.
Note: If you are a young person charged with a federal offence, you
are entitled to legal aid.
Serious family problems
Legal aid will cover your case if —
you need a restraining order or a change
to your current custody or access order because you or your children are
at risk of physical violence;
you need a supervised access order
because your children are at risk,
the other parent is threatening to take
your child out of the province permanently, or
the Ministry of Children and Family
Development has taken, or threatens to take, your child away from you.
You may also be eligible for legal aid if one of the following
circumstances applies to you:
You cannot represent yourself due to a
serious condition or disability and your family matter must be resolved
to avoid further harm.
There are references in your court
documents to past sexual, physical, or emotional abuse and the offending
parent or partner is back in the community.
The parent with access has kidnapped your
child and there is an existing custody order or separation agreement.
You are the respondent in a maintenance
enforcement committal proceeding and will be sent to jail as a result of
your failure to pay maintenance.
There has been complete denial of access
for three months or more in breach of a court order or separation
Other unusual or extenuating
circumstances have arisen.
Legal aid will cover your case if you’re facing a refugee or deportation
How to apply for legal aid
To apply for legal aid, phone your local
legal aid office. To find the office phone number, see below. If the person
on the phone tells you to come to the legal aid office, you’ll need to bring
proof of your income with you. Ask the person on the phone what documents
you need to bring.
This proof of income can include one or more
of the following:
You’ll also need to bring the following:
proof of the value of your assets — like your car, boat, or RRSPs
any papers you have about your case — like court orders or papers related
to your criminal charge
A staff person at the office will ask you
questions and complete a legal aid application with you. You will have to
answer questions about your
legal problem, your
income, and the value of
If your area doesn’t have a legal aid office
or if you can’t get to the office, you can apply for legal aid over the
phone by calling the
Legal Services Society Call Centre
at (604) 408-2172 (Lower Mainland) or toll free at 1-866-577-2525 (outside
the Lower Mainland). When you call, you’ll need to have with you all of the
information about your income, assets, and legal problem listed above.
What else do I need to know?
You must give the legal aid office or call centre complete and true
information about your income, savings, and assets.
If you get legal aid, you must let the legal aid office know if your
If your financial situation improves and you’re no longer eligible for
legal aid, you’ll be responsible for paying your lawyer. Ask your lawyer
how much you’d need to pay if you were taken off legal aid.
If you get money from your case, you may have to refund the Legal Services
Society for part or all of the money it has paid to your lawyer.
Below is a list of the offices in BC
that can take applications for legal aid.
You can use the
LSS location map
to find the locations of legal aid offices. See also
Legal aid offices
for more information about the office nearest you.
The Legal Services Society has
established a toll-free telephone service for people who are not able to
apply for legal aid in person. The Legal Services Society Call Centre
accepts calls from around the province and from prisoners in all
If your hearing is impaired, you can call
a province-wide toll-free number to be connected to a teletypewriter
(TTY) machine at the Vancouver Intake Clinic. Leave a message and an
intake legal assistant will call you back to take your legal aid
application over the phone.
The Brydges Line service is a
province-wide toll-free telephone service you can call to speak to a
lawyer if you are:
What if I can’t get legal aid?
If the legal aid worker tells you that
you’re not financially eligible for legal aid, you can appeal this
To appeal a decision, fill out the form
(called a Legal aid application — Refused form) that the legal aid
worker gave you. The Vancouver Regional Centre at 1140 West Pender
Street in Vancouver handles appeals.
If the legal aid worker tells you that
your case isn’t covered by legal aid and you don’t agree, you can ask
the managing lawyer at the office where you applied to reconsider the
Duty counsel (general)
If you can’t get legal
aid and you are charged with a crime, you may be able to get help from
duty counsel. Duty counsel are lawyers paid by LSS to provide legal
services to in- and out-of-custody accused people in Provincial Court.
Duty counsel can provide you with advice about the charges against you,
court procedures, and your legal rights (including the right to counsel
and the right to apply for legal aid). Duty counsel can also represent
you at a bail hearing, and, if there is time, help with a guilty plea.
While you do not have to be financially eligible for legal aid to
receive duty counsel services, you must meet LSS coverage and
eligibility requirements to get a referral for ongoing representation.
limited duty counsel services are available to people detained on
Family Advice Lawyer
If you are a low-income parent
experiencing separation or divorce, you may be eligible for up to three
hours of free legal advice from the Family Advice Lawyer Project.
You may be able to get help from the
project even if you do not qualify for legal aid. Project lawyers can
provide advice about custody, access, guardianship, and child support;
property (limited); tentative settlement agreements; and court
The Family Lawyer Advice Project is a joint
project of LSS and the Ministry of Attorney General's Family Justice
Services Division. This service is available in family justice
counsellors offices in Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George, Surrey,
Vancouver, and Victoria. You must be referred to the service by a family
justice counsellor or a child support officer. For more information
about this project, call
Law Line (see
below), or call Enquiry BC and ask to be connected to a family justice
counsellors office in one of the locations above.
To contact Enquiry BC, call —
(from outside Vancouver and Victoria)
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