Tuesday, 24 November 2015
The pros and cons of representing yourself in court
Thinking about representing yourself in court?
People often decide to take this course of action because they are hoping to avoid having to pay solicitors' or barristers' fees, but this may rapidly prove to be a false economy if you do not know the risks involved. Though it is true that legal fees can be a costly encumbrance, you may be able to qualify for some measure of legal aid to help pay your court and lawyer costs. The benefit of employing someone with legal knowledge is that they help level the playing field if the other side is also using representation. Remember that the losing side may be required to pay all or part of the winning side's legal expenses, so it is worth hiring someone to help you win the case. If you are taking on a legal professional as a lay person then you may find yourself outmatched (regardless of whether or not you have the truth on your side) your opponent could still trap you by knowing the letter of the law.
Understanding the process
Understanding the process is vital to self-representation. In most courts, the opposing lawyer will be required to explain complex legal terminology/procedural issues to you if you are not legally qualified yourself. So if you don't understand something, you should always ask for clarification. If you do not wish to bring a solicitor, you should be able to bring a friend (or other lay representative) with you, providing you notify the court beforehand. Some courts are set up specifically to aid people who are representing themselves, such as County Courts and some tribunals, where additional flexibility is allowed in (some) parts of proceedings.
Preparation is pivotal to self-representation, and you should do everything you can to get ready before actually entering the court room. You need to compose an opening statement and organise any supporting documents or evidence before you attend, with everything in order for easy access at short notice. Anticipate the opposition's arguments, as having an idea what they might say will help your response on the day. Read the directions of the court/tribunal and make sure you understand them before going to court; they should be sent to you 14 days before your case is heard, so don't put off reading them until the last minute. Ensure that any witnesses that are integral to your case are aware of their role, and make certain they know when and where to attend.
Looking at the facts
In the actual court, you will need to focus on the facts. Avoid disclosing irrelevant information unless you are asked to directly and try not to become emotional. Never assume that the judge is already aware of all the facts of your case and try to think about what they might consider important. Take notes throughout the case, paying particular attention to the weaknesses in the other side's argument, as you may need to depend upon them later and they will help you maintain clarity in your own arguments. Make a note of the judge's order at the end of the case, as it may take some time before you receive it in writing. You should think about approaching your local Trading Standards office as well as the Citizens Advice Bureau for further advice about making your case.
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