In Canada, the police arrest people and Crown prosecutors (governement lawyers) charge people with crimes.
- You have legal rights. If you’re arrested, the police must tell you the charge you’re being arrested for
- A person who is arrested has the right to have a private conversation with a lawyer, by telephone. Many police stations have a list of lawyers who can help an accused person. A free lawyer is available 24 hours a day for this purpose.
- You also have the right:
- to remain silent,
- to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and
- the right to a fair trial.
- Talk to a lawyer if you think that any of your rights have been violated.
- The person being arrested must tell the police their name and address, and go with the police to the police station. To learn more, see The Arrest Handbook.
Charged with a crime?
If you were arrested, either the police or the court will give you a document.
- The document will tell you the crime you’ve been charged with, what kind of offence it is.
- The document will also provide the date, time, and place of your first court appearance.
You should talk to a lawyer as soon as you know you’ve been charged. Never plead guilty without getting legal advice first
What can a lawyer do?
- A lawyer can explain the charges against you, and tell you:
- if your rights have been violated,
- how strong the prosecutor’s case is,
- what kind of sentence you might get if you’re convicted, and
- what defenses you have.
- A lawyer can explain your options and the court process.
- A lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecutor for you and defend you in court.
- Call Legal Aid or visit a Legal Aid office immediately to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer.
- CALL: 604-408-2172 (Greater Vancouver) | 1-866-577-2525 (toll free in BC)
How do I find a lawyer?
- Legal Aid – If you might go to jail if convicted and if you have a low income, you may qualify for a free lawyer from Legal Aid. Call Legal Aid at 604-408-2172 or www.legalaid.bc for office locations.
- Duty Counsel – You can speak to a duty counsel lawyer at the courthouse if one is available on the day you are in court. Duty counsel gives free advice about the charges against you, court procedures, and your legal rights. Duty counsel can also speak on your behalf the first time you appear in court, but they can’t act as your permanent lawyer. To find when duty counsel is available, call Legal Aid or your local courthouse. See www.legalaid.bc.ca for courthouse locations.
- Lawyer Referral Service – For $25 plus taxes, you can speak to a lawyer they recommend for 30 minutes to see if you want to hire the lawyer and how much it would cost. Call: 604-687-3221
What if I am denied a free lawyer by Legal Aid?
If you're facing serious and complex criminal charges and you have been denied legal aid but can't afford a lawyer, you can make a Rowbotham Application.
What is a Rowbotham Application?
If you want a lawyer and you have been denied legal aid, you can ask the judge to appoint a lawyer for you. This request is called a Rowbotham Application. You must meet all of these criteria:
- Be denied legal aid
- Want a lawyer but cannot afford one
- Face a serious criminal charge
- Face a complex criminal charge
The Canadian Constitution (Charter of Rights and Freedoms) says you have the right to a fair trial. Judges have a duty to protect your right to a fair trial. The courts have decided that sometimes a person can’t have a fair trial if he or she doesn’t have a lawyer. The judge will consider your Rowbotham Application and determine if you qualify for a free lawyer.
What if I need to apply for legal aid and I don’t speak or understand English?
Call the Legal Services Society of BC: 604-408-2172. If you can't communicate with their staff in English and you don’t have someone who can interpret for you, they can arrange for an interpreter.
Last reviewed: March 2016