If you’re going to court, then you will need to decide whether to engage a lawyer, or forego the help of a lawyer and decide on self representation. The need to have a lawyer represent you increases depending on the seriousness of your offence or the importance (or value) of the matter in dispute.
Get legal advice
No matter what, you would be strongly advised to get some legal advice as Australian law can often be complex. Ignorance is never an excuse for getting it wrong when you’re facing a judge. After all, that’s exactly why you would consider getting a lawyer in the first place.
In certain circumstances, it may be possible to obtain assistance from Legal Aid. However, there are very specific asset limits and income tests.
Self representation in court is not easy or ideal
Lawyers spend years acquiring the knowledge and qualifications required to practise law, and generally the more experience a lawyer has, the better they are. Representing yourself is not easy.
Don’t just think you can wing it because good lawyers make it look easy. Careful and meticulous research and preparation must be done, the detail of legislation and certain legal jargon and language must be known, court documents and fees must be filed and paid properly, witnesses must be properly summoned, and your case must be presented according to certain protocols and rules.
Litigants who are represented by a lawyer more often than not get a better outcome than if they represent themselves. Even judges associates have confirmed in their experience that self represented litigants don’t tend to fare very well in court.
Observe the court room
If you’ve never been to court before, it’s not a good idea to just turn up on the day of your hearing. Even if you have prepared well, the layout and workings of a courtroom are totally unfamiliar to most people, so you will need to do some homework about where you should be and what is expected of you.
Courts operate according to strict rules of formality, and transgressing the protocols in serious ways – such as not respecting the judge – can have consequences such as being found in contempt.
If in doubt, get a lawyer. When its important to get it right, its important to invest in a lawyer. After all, you wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself!
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