A person can represent themselves in the Supreme Court, District Court and Local Court. You can defend yourself in court in criminal matters and in the tribunals. Deciding to represent yourself in court is a big decision, you need to weigh the task ahead and remember that your freedom may be at stake. If you feel unsure about representing yourself in court then it is best to seek expert legal advice from experienced lawyers.
When deciding whether you should represent yourself, you should consider the following:
- Can you spare the time, energy and resources needed to prepare for the case and represent yourself;
- Do you have the required skills needed to defend yourself in court;
- If you represent yourself you will have to argue against your opponent either a Police Prosecutor or a Lawyer from the Director of Public Prosecutions;
- Can you remain clear headed and argue out the case without being too emotional;
- Can work under pressure without being intimidated by the opposing party;
- If you cannot afford a Lawyer, have you considered whether your qualify for legal aid;
- Can you speak confidently to a Judge, Magistrate or Jury;
There are several considerations about how to represent yourself in court that will come in handy;
- Legal Advice
It is strongly recommended that you seek legal advice in relation to your case even if you are representing yourself in Court.
Many lawyers will have an initial conference with you for free. In that conference, you should be given advice on what you can expect when you enter a court room and more importantly what you may be facing as a penalty for your offence.
Many people often feel confident they can represent themselves however on the day of Court feel intimidated and unable to say or do what they had originally planned. The benefit of having an experienced Lawyer appear for you in Court is that your version of events and the penalty you are seeking is clearly conveyed to the Magistrate or Judge together with the reasons or evidence supporting the requests.
- Court Appearances
The first Court appearance can often result in your case being adjourned. When you plead guilty to the charges which bring you before the Court, the Magistrate or Judge may order that your case be adjourned to another date for sentence or hearing. The Magistrate may ask for a pre-sentence report before determining your sentence. If the charge was minor and you plead guilty, the Magistrate or Judge may proceed to sentence immediately.
It is important that you get legal advice before you enter a plea of guilty. A lawyer will advise you on the strength of your case and possible penalties if you plead guilty.
If the Magistrate grants Bail, the Court will issue hand you a bail notice. This notice will tell you when you should next appear before the Magistrate.
Once you arrive at the Court, you need to check the Court lists. They are normally posted on the wall. The list will show you the courtroom where your case will be heard, ensure that you are near or in the courtroom when your case is about to be heard. If your case is mentioned and you cannot be found, the courts will assume that you have not appeared and may deal with your case in your absence. If they don’t deal with it in your absence depending on the type of case the Magistrate may issue a warrant for your arrest.
It is important to note there may be one or “two mentions” or “call overs” before the hearing of your case in Court. These appearances are meant for arranging a timetable to fit your case. The time span of your case may also be determined at this time. A guilty or not guilty plea can be made in any of these “call overs”.
If a guilty plea is entered, your sentencing may be done immediately. If you plead not guilty, then the hearing date will be set for a time in the future.
Ensure that you check the availability of your witnesses before the hearing dates are set. You can tell the court which days suit you and your witnesses best. There will be time implications once you decide to defend yourself in court. Ensure that you make the necessary arrangements and ask to be away from work. If you feel pressed for time.
- Court Protocol
When speaking to a Magistrate or Judge, you should address the Magistrate or Judge as your Honour and when speaking to them you should stand. It is part of court protocol to stand once the magistrate or judge enters the court.
Basic politeness is very important in court. Also bear in mind that a Magistrate or Judge has the power to hold you in ‘contempt’ for any unruly or offensive behaviour.
Lawyers and Prosecutors present their arguments when standing behind the “bar table”. If you are representing yourself in court, stand beside the table until the Magistrate or Judge invites you to present your case standing behind the table.
- Case Preparation
Before making appearances in court, it is imperative that you read all documentations that are relevant to your case. You will be needed to present this information to the court in a clear and concise way. A lawyer will assist you in the preparation of your case as the Lawyer should be aware of what parts of the evidence can be objected to and importantly what parts of your case are relevant.
Ensure that you plan what you will say in court. Decide beforehand any evidence that you will present. Any evidence you present in support of your case must be reliable.
You also need to decide whether you will call any witnesses. If you have witnesses you can issue a subpoena for them to appear in court. It is important that you take a statement from your witnesses so you know what their evidence will be when they speak in Court.
Ensure that you have copies of any documentation that you will present before the court. The court and the other party may request for copies.
- Legal Terms and Words
Legal terminologies can be very confusing. Again, different courts may use different names to refer to the same thing. For example, in some courts, the legal word used to refer to a person representing themselves is “unrepresented”, while in some it may be “self-represented”.
There are other legal terms for sentences that may be available to you or names for particular legal arguments or objections you have to particular parts of the evidence.
- Research and Self preparation
It is advisable for you to be fully prepared before you defend yourself in court. One of the best ways to do this is to attend court proceedings. Familiarise yourself with the Court proceedings. Almost all the courts are normally open to the public. If you can, observe the proceedings of a case that is like your case. Take notes and go through them several times before the day of your hearing. If you take time to familiarise yourself with what goes on in these courts, you will be more confident on your hearing day.
As evidenced, representing yourself in court is a huge task. You may have to put off your daily commitments to devote time to your case. Now that you have learned how to represent yourself in court, weigh up the task ahead and make an informed decision.
You are always welcome to arrange a conference with a Lawyer from our office should you need any legal assistance.