Whether it’s a criminal or civil matter, whenever you appear in court you have a right to represent yourself. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you should. The law is definitive and complex. It is therefore important that your first step should be to get a lawyer. If you choose to represent yourself several questions will arise. Do you know what the legal issues are? Do you know the ingredients of the offense you’re charged with? Are you familiar with the rules of evidence? While lawyers are viewed as costly, I’ve compiled five reasons why you should never represent yourself in court.
Your Emotions Will Cloud Your Judgment
You are personally involved. After all it is your case. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to resist a dig by the claimant’s lawyer or the prosecutor who more than likely will find it pertinent to tell you all that he thinks he may know about you. In fact, in response you may hot-headedly decide to respond in an equally if not more hostile and vile manner which may land you in trouble with the judge and perhaps throw your entire focus off balance.
You Are Not An Experienced Advocate
No matter how brilliant you are, it may only take one interruption or unforeseen response to one of the questions you ask to disgruntle all of your preparation. Additionally, there are customs and practices that your lawyer will know, (for example the art of cross-examination) that you may not be aware of. This lack of experience can make you lose what may otherwise be a strong case. This brings me nicely to reason number three.
You Are Not Legally Trained
Law is definitive with a criteria to satisfy in order to prove a charge (in a criminal matter) and establish liability (in a civil matter). A lawyer has been through at least 4-5 years of training in various subject areas. From statutory interpretation to criminal and civil procedure, your lawyer is familiar (or at least should be) with the issues confronting your case. Lord Justice Brooke states "… it is quite essential for advocates who hold themselves out as competent to practise in a particular field to bring and keep themselves up to date with recent authority in their field." This means that your lawyer should be equipped with the relevant legal authorities and research that will aid your case. As a lay person you are not familiar with legal research or authorities and this could be detrimental to your case.
The Other Party May Have A Lawyer
Chances are the other party has a lawyer and this puts you at a disadvantage. While it is the duty of the magistrate or judge to assist an unrepresented litigant, the scales are not totally balanced with you being unrepresented. The Lawyer will not “play nicely” and assist you, in fact they are relishing in the fact that you are unrepresented and waiting for the opportunity to run rings around you. They do not see you as a challenge, and most if not all are convinced they’ve won the case even before it starts.
Save More Money in the Long Run
The most popular reason why individuals tend not to “lawyer up” is because they think lawyers are too costly, so they’d rather go to court unrepresented. After all, to them how hard can the matter be? “I’m in the right/not guilty, any judge would agree with me once they hear my side of the story.” The aspect that no one considers is that it could end up being more costly. A colleague of mine recounted how he charged a client EC$5,000.00 for a matter. The Client was making approximately EC$30,000.00 p.a. but decided that the fee was too much so he would represent himself. The outcome was, he was sentenced to 4 years in prison, ended up paying EC$120,000.00 in fines and costs to the other side all because he failed to “lawyer up”.