Should I represent myself in Court?
With the dramatic funding cuts to the Legal Aid Commission of NSW, you may be forced into representing yourself in court, rather than have a solicitor represent you. The legal aid policy now is that if the defendant is not likely to receive a full time custodial sentence, legal aid will generally reject their application for funding. The courts are faced with countless self represented defendants in our local, and sometimes District Courts.
The advantages of representing yourself in court
1. Saving money on legal fees
Of course, on the centre of most peoples minds when considering representing themselves is the costs of hiring a solicitor to represent them in court. Lawyers can be expensive, and many of those who are faced with criminal charges are often from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. Even many of those charged who are gainfully employed on a full time basis would find it hard to find an affordable criminal lawyer.
2. Not much else
Representing yourself, without knowledge of the law, legislation, procedure, the system and magistrates is not recommended.
It is quite a sad situation for our justice system. Ordinary citizens, many who have limited education, are seen in our courts struggling to address the court in relation to their charges. They are not aware of the maximum sentences that are applicable to each charge, the general attitude the courts have to a particular offence, the particular attitudes of certain judges and magistrates to certain offences, the common law rules and procedure in our courts.
Why hire a lawyer?
1. Years of experience appearing in Court
Lawyers are taught, from their days in University, to argue effectively. A criminal lawyer spends almost everyday in court, speaking in a way that seems a different language to many without the expertise. Most judges and magistrates were also once lawyers, and studied in Law School at University, just as those who appear before them have. Reading legislation, old cases, and police briefs are an everyday job of an experienced criminal lawyer.
2. Dealing with Police
A criminal lawyer who deals with Police on a daily basis will rarely be intimidated by those Police (a small number) who use their position of power to achieve their desired result. A criminal lawyer will also act as a barrier between the Police and the defendant, to allow controlled communication between the police and those charged. It is difficult to deal with the Police when you have been charged with a criminal offence, and a lawyer will act as an impartial communicator with Police.
3. Access to information
An effective criminal lawyer will know where to get the information about a case, potential witnesses, evidence and documents that will support your defence. If this information is readily available, an experienced criminal lawyer will know what court orders are required to obtain that information. Lawyers often retain the services of other expert witnesses that will assist you in your defence, including private investigators, psychiatrists, scientists and others who can provide an opinion that a lawyer is not qualified to.
There are countless other advantages to hiring a lawyer…
What should I do if I can’t afford a lawyer and have been refused legal aid?
There are many other institutions that may be able to assist you. Community Legal Centres are now becoming much more prominent in the provisions of legal services to those who cannot afford a lawyer. They will sometimes take cases on at a very small costs, or even sometimes for no charge at all. There will likely be a Community Legal Centre near your area.
Failing all else, you will be forced to represent yourself. Before you do, be sure to do your research and be well prepared. Know how to address the court, how to dress, and the basic elements to your charge.
With so much information on the internet about representing yourself in court, many choose this option.
If you need more information on representing yourself, or need details of your nearest Community Legal Centre, call LY Lawyers on 1300 595 299.