Looking for duty counsel services offered by your provincial legal aid plan?
We’ve described some of the people behind family, criminal and immigration duty counsel services in courthouses across Canada, but duty counsel do a whole lot more. If you need help, find out where to go here:
The NWT Legal Aid Commission provides comprehensive duty counsel services in both criminal and family law matters. In addition, lawyers with the NWT’s Outreach Legal Aid Clinics provide up to 3 hours of legal advice and coaching on civil matters without the need for an application or financial qualification. Clients can be connected with a lawyer in person or by phone, email, or videoconference – which is a great way to bridge the huge distances in the North!
Legal Aid BC can provide legal advice services if you have a criminal or family law matter, including duty counsel services at Provincial Courts across the province, in BC’s 8 Indigenous Courts and at the busiest BC Supreme Courts.
Legal aid lawyers also provide free legal advice via the Family LawLINE. They can help you with things like parenting time, child and spousal support, family agreements, and child protection matters.
Immigration duty counsel is available if you are in detention at the Canada Border Services Agency’s enforcement centre in Vancouver.
Charged with a crime and self-represented? In Alberta, you can get legal advice over the phone before your first court appearance. Duty counsel lawyers can explain your situation and your options.
On your court date, if you are at the courthouse, duty counsel lawyers are there on the spot to help both adults and youth.
See: Charged with a crime and no lawyer
Brydges hotline if you are in police custody
The Brydges duty counsel service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ask for an interpreter if you need one.
How it works: Tell the police officer that you would like to speak to duty counsel. The officer will call the hotline, and duty counsel will call back to speak with you.
Held in custody
Anyone who’s arrested and denied bail has the right to free legal aid representation at their bail hearing. Duty counsel lawyers are available 16 hours a day, 365 days a year.
See: Justice of the Peace Bail program
Duty counsel are available in provincial courthouses across Alberta. Visit duty counsel on your court date for brief legal advice on issues related to parenting, guardianship, child support, property actions, spousal support, and divorce.
Do you need help dealing with family violence? Legal Aid Alberta can help you get an emergency protection order.
Help with criminal and family matters in the virtual courtroom
If you need legal aid help on your day of court and you qualify for services, you can talk to duty counsel.
Criminal duty counsel can:
- advise about legal rights, obligations and the court process
- help with adjournments, bail hearings, guilty pleas, sentencing and diversion matters
- help with disclosure reviews and Crown pre-trials / resolution discussions
- help at court appearances for criminal matters, including in mental health court, Gladue court and drug treatment court
- help you apply for legal aid if you cannot do it on your own
Family duty counsel help Ontarians with family law issues that arise from separation and divorce.
If you meet LAO’s eligibility criteria, family duty counsel may be able to help you in court with your family law case. For example, they may help eligible clients by:
- providing legal advice about your rights, obligations and the family court process
- helping to negotiate and settle issues
- reviewing and preparing court documents
- first court appearances
- first case conference for applications, responses, and motions to change
Family duty counsel may also be able to help clients without financial testing by:
- providing general information
- providing summary legal advice
- emergency motions
- first court appearance after a child has been taken to a place of safety (child protection matter)
Family duty counsel may also provide referrals to LAO’s certificate program and other LAO services, as well as referrals to community resources.
You have the right to represent yourself, but it’s highly recommended that you speak to duty counsel first. You can find duty counsel in family and criminal courts across the province.
Brydges hotline if you are in police custody
The Brydges duty counsel service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, French, and other languages through an interpreter.
How it works: Tell the police officer that you would like to speak to duty counsel. The officer will call the hotline, and duty counsel will call back to speak with you within 30 minutes.
Tenant duty counsel program
Have a hearing with the Landlord and Tenant Board and need a lawyer? Ontario renters can get help through the Advocacy Centre for Tenant Ontario’s tenant duty counsel program. On the day of your hearing, tenant duty counsel can:
- provide advice and assistance if you have been illegally locked out or you have an eviction notice/order
- help you work out settlements with your landlord
- review and help you fill out some forms and documents, especially ones related to eviction.
Tenant duty counsel are available across Ontario and no appointment is necessary. Services are free, but you may have to qualify financially for certain types of assistance.
Inmates appeal program
If you have a family member who has recently been convicted of a crime and they want to appeal, contact the Pro Bono Inmate Appeal Program.
The New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission can provide you with legal advice for criminal matters, as well as representation by duty counsel at bail hearings and sentencings for individuals who are otherwise without counsel. Duty counsel services are also provided for the following specialized courts: the Mental Health Docket, Mental Health Review Board, Domestic Violence Court, and Elsipogtog Healing to Wellness Court.
Family duty counsel advise unrepresented parties about their legal rights and obligations; review court documents; and attend court with unrepresented parties in certain circumstances (e.g., to request adjournments; obtain consent orders; assist in uncontested hearings regarding custody, access and support)
Legal Aid Nova Scotia helps people with a variety of duty counsel services:
- A 24-hour telephone service for adult and youth criminal matters
- Personal attendance duty counsel services for unlawful death matters
- Cells duty counsel services for adult and youth criminal matters
- Non-custodial duty counsel services for criminal matters
- Court-based family summary advice services
If you need legal help but can’t afford it, Legal Aid Saskatchewan might be able to help.
Legal Aid Saskatchewan provides three types of services for criminal matters:
- If you are in police custody: The Brydges phone line is free and available 24 hours a day. You will get legal advice from a lawyer. The police will help you call this line.
- If you are in jail: A lawyer can help you at a bail hearing for free. It is available to anyone who is on remand.
- If you have been charged with a crime and are facing jail time, a lawyer might be able to help you if you do not have enough money and the lawyer determines there is merit to the case.
All youth are eligible for Legal Aid Saskatchewan services, regardless of the seriousness of their charges or their finances.
Legal Aid Saskatchewan helps eligible low-income people with the following family matters:
- divorce or separation
- child custody / joint custody
- access to child
- child support
- spousal support
Summary advice/information may be provided to anyone by a Legal Aid Saskatchewan lawyer about a wide range of matters if it involves no more than a brief interview or telephone call. This is up to the discretion of each office.
Legal Aid Newfoundland offers help via a Brydges phone line for people arrested or detained, and with criminal court duty counsel (province-wide) and family duty counsel (at Supreme Court Family Division in St. John’s only). You can find out more here: Services in court.
Legal Aid Manitoba provides a range of duty counsel and full representation services to eligible low income individuals and groups in the areas of Family, Criminal, Child Protection, Immigration and Refugee, and Public Interest.
In addition, we provide:
- 24-hour Brydges on-call duty counsel services for individuals who are arrested or detained
- Circuit Court Duty Counsel services across the province – Duty Counsel will assist anyone making a first appearance in both criminal and child protection matters
- Consent Guardianship Agreements – assistance with drafting
- Mental Health and Drug Treatment Court – consistent Duty Counsel available in specialty courts
For Residential Tenancies issues such as eviction, health and/or safety issues within a rental unity and tenant and landlord claims over $200.00 the Advocacy Unit Advocates, supervised by a lawyer, can:
- Represent you at a tribunal hearing
- Assist with resolving your matter through mediation
- Provide direction and information
- Prepare you for your hearing
- Investigate and gather evidence in support of your case
* Note: In Quebec, the role of avocat de garde is similar to that of duty counsel in the rest of Canada. The people who perform the role of avocat de garde are permanent lawyers hired by legal aid to assist people in the court system who require representation. Additionally, private practice lawyers can take legal aid mandates.
If you are detained or arrested
Quebec’s Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services requires a “avocat de garde” be available 24 hours a day for a telephone consultation (related to your constitutional rights), free of charge, whether or not you are financially eligible for legal aid.
On the arraignment day
If you are detained at your arraignment, a legal aid lawyer will be in court to represent you. Every detained person is automatically eligible for short-term legal aid representation (arraignment and bail) unless she indicates that she is not financially eligible or that she does not want the service.
Il you are not detained, a legal aid lawyer will often be in court to guide you.
Minor children are automatically eligible for free legal representation for any services covered by the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services and its regulations, including representation for a youth protection file or a file relating to the youth criminal justice system.
If you are detained while awaiting an immigration hearing, a legal aid lawyer will be present to meet with you. Every detained person is automatically eligible for short-term legal aid representation unless she indicates that she is not financially eligible or that she does not want the service.
Conjugal or sexual violence
Legal aid offers 4 hours of free consultation regardless of your financial eligibility.