If you’re facing criminal charges, you have the right to be represented by a lawyer. Normally, you are responsible for paying your legal fees. However, you may receive free or low-cost legal services if you meet certain criteria.
Free telephone consultation if you are arrested
If you’re arrested or detained by police officers, you have the right to contact the lawyer of your choice.
You could choose to contact the Legal Aid emergency service at 1-800-842-2213. If you don’t have this telephone number with you, the police have to provide it or dial it for you.
This service is available 24/7, everywhere in Quebec. It is free of charge regardless of your level of income.
Legal aid services, if you are eligible
Your legal services could be covered by legal aid if you are eligible. Legal aid has two programs: free legal services and legal aid with a contribution. If you’re eligible for free legal services, you will not have to pay anything for your legal defence. If you’re not eligible for free legal services, but you’re eligible for legal aid with a contribution, you’ll have to contribute $100 to $800 for your legal defence.
To receive legal aid, you must meet the following criteria:
- You must be financially eligible: This means your income and assets must not exceed certain limits. For more information, consult the website of the Commission des services juridiques (legal services commission).
- The legal services you require must be covered by legal aid: The services will be covered if you are charged with an indictable offence (generally, a more serious type of criminal offence) but will not automatically be covered if you are charged with a summary conviction offence. If you are facing a criminal charge, you should check with the legal aid office nearest you to see if your legal services could be covered. To locate this office, consult the website of the Commission des services juridiques.
A lawyer at the legal aid office will determine if you are eligible. You could then be represented by a lawyer working at the legal aid office or by a lawyer of your choice in private practice who accepts legal aid cases.
Free legal information services
There are some free services available to provide you with legal information. They can’t provide advice about the decisions you must make. But they can give you information about your rights, the court process and the possible impacts of the different decisions you’re facing.
Ligne Info-Droit criminel du Barreau du Québec (Quebec Bar Association criminal law information line)
This telephone service makes it possible for you to speak with a lawyer, if you’re not already represented by one, and you’re not eligible for legal aid. You have the right to one consultation per court file. The service is available everywhere in Quebec, Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.
Ligne Info-Droit criminel du Barreau du Québec : 1-888-954-9447
Centres de justice de proximité (Community Justice Centres)
The Centres de justice de proximité make it possible for you to speak with a lawyer, regardless of your financial situation or of the type of legal problem involved. They have offices in many regions of Quebec and their opening hours vary. To find the one nearest you consult their website.
Free legal services ordered by a judge
Under exceptional circumstances, a judge may order that a defendant be represented by a lawyer, free of charge, regardless of eligibility for legal aid. Here are two examples of such situations :
To ensure that a defendant is not deprived of a proper defence in a complex trial
A judge may consider that a trial could be unfair to a defendant who is unable to mount a proper defence. The defendant must show they do not have the financial means to pay the estimated lawyer’s fees for the trial. They must also show that it’s very likely the trial will be unfair, if they are not represented by a lawyer, because:
- The consequences of a criminal conviction could be serious
- The court procedures are likely to be lengthy and complex
- The defendant is unable to provide a proper defence on their own
To protect certain victims when the accused is defending themself
A person accused of a crime is not obliged to be represented by a lawyer. They can provide their own defence. However, in some cases, a judge may order that a lawyer be appointed and paid by the government to cross-examine a victim. This could be done to protect a vulnerable victim who will have to testify at a trial, for example, a child. In this situation, it will be the appointed lawyer, rather than the accused, who will question the victim during the trial.