Should I represent myself in court?


Choosing to represent yourself in court is a big decision that you should think carefully about. Here are some of the things to consider when deciding if it’s right for you.

Am I allowed to represent myself?

Any person can opt to represent themselves in court. That means you’re completely within your rights to represent yourself in civil or criminal proceedings.

Importantly, while you’re allowed to represent yourself, only lawyers are allowed to represent other people. This means that you can’t get a friend or associate to help you in court without the leave of the court. If you’re self-represented, you have to rely on yourself.

Understand the legal system

The legal system can appear complex, especially for people who don’t have much to do with it on a day-to-day basis. The result: if you’re unfamiliar with how legal matters and courts work, representing yourself can prove tricky, particularly if your problem is complicated.

For that reason, if you don’t have a good understanding of how the legal system works and think you’ll find it difficult to get across the process, it’s advisable to seek legal assistance.

Prepare and present your case

Another factor to consider is preparation for court. In civil and criminal law, judicial officers only have very limited obligations when it comes to assisting an unrepresented person at a hearing or trial. This is usually restricted to basics such as informing you that you may like to object to certain evidence, or that it’s your turn to cross examine a witness.

Importantly, there’s no obligation on any legal participant to assist you with preparing your case, or how to present it in court. Usually these are key tasks performed by a lawyer, but without one, the burden will fall to you to do things such as calling relevant witnesses, preparing affidavits and keeping track of documents.

Get the basics right

If you are considering representing yourself at court there are some basic things that, at a minimum, you should strive to get right.

For instance, be sure of the date, time and place of your court attendance and always check and record your next court date and time if you have to appear on multiple occasion. Also, in the lead up to your court appearance, if can be a good time to go ahead of time and sit in court to get familiar with how the court works, so you’re not surprised on the day.

It’s also important to look the part. You may not be a lawyer but remember you’re representing yourself in serious proceedings and appearances are important. Dressing professionally can help create a favourable impression with the magistrate or judge.

Take time to consider what’s best for you

The above considerations are important so you don’t underestimate how much is involved in representing yourself in court. Remember, in short, you have to carry out all the tasks that a lawyer usually would, and it takes years to earn qualifications as a solicitor.

If you are in doubt about your ability to represent yourself it’s best to get in touch with a lawyer to see if they can help, or if you can’t afford one to seek help from NSW Legal Aid.