Law Blog


Should You Represent Yourself in a Criminal Case?

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As a defendant, you’re given the right to a lawyer. So if you live in Calgary and have been accused of a crime, you have every right to choose among the Calgary criminal lawyers available to represent you. However, you also have the right to self-representation. In legal jargon, this is called “pro se” an individual who chooses to represent himself/herself.

But this right is not absolute or automatic. Some judges may not give you permission to act as your own counsel, which means you’ll need to convince them to let you. If you insist on representing yourself, here are the things you need to do:

  • First, you need to get permission. The criminal trial procedures may vary depending on where you are in Canada but in general, once you’re arrested and put on trial, you will need to make your first appearance in court at a preliminary hearing.

During this hearing, the court will explain the crime that you have been accused of, set a trial date and appoint a lawyer to act as your legal counsel, if you need one and you cannot afford to hire a lawyer on your own. During this time, you can tell the judge that you want to represent yourself. It’s important that you inform the court very early on in the proceedings that you want to be your own legal counsel.

  • Once you’ve informed the judge about your decision, he or she will most likely hold a hearing, during which you will need to answer some questions. This is to prove that you are making a conscious and intelligent decision to move forward without a lawyer. If the judge is not convinced that you are competent to do so, he or she will not allow you to represent yourself.

Should You Represent Yourself?

In Canada, many defendants choose to represent themselves in court. However, a lot of them find out too late that it was not the smartest thing to do. Of course, there are several reasons why you may opt to act as a pro se. For example, you may find legal fees too costly or you just do not trust lawyers in general.

But before you decide, you need to seriously think about the pros and cons of representing yourself in court.

  • Are you familiar with criminal court proceedings?
  • Do you understand legal jargon?
  • Do you have the resources and time to devote to your case?
  • Will the amount of money you save be worth the trouble of losing your case?
  • How serious are the consequences if you lose?

Here’s some advice: if you can afford it, hire a seasoned and reputable criminal defence attorney. There’s just so much at stake and you’d be foolish not to consider the consequences.