Why Representing Yourself In Court is Not a Good Idea

The Singapore legal system has in recent years come up with toolkits, information, booklets, and webpages dedicated to supporting self-representation in Court. While it is granted that self-representation is the cheaper option, it may not be such a great idea if you do not achieve your desired results and lose the case in Court.

Let’s first see what the Supreme Court of Singapore, in their website (here), has to say on the matter:

“While you may wish to avoid spending money to engage a lawyer, you should note that:

  • The Court holds litigants in person to the same standard of preparation as lawyers for the trial of each case.   You will have to comply with all the relevant rules and practise directions in preparing for the trial.  
  • At the trial, you must be able to explain your case clearly to the Court. A strong case can be lost if improperly or inadequately communicated. You must be able to cross-examine witnesses, make reference to any relevant documents, and make submissions to support your case. 
  • If there are questions of law that need to be decided in your case, you may not be able to argue your case with the relevant legal authorities 

In reality, not everyone has the ability to conduct a trial in person – even though you may have the legal right to do so.” 

Let’s now break down the issues and discuss them one by one.

The Paperwork

Other than documentary evidence, which you would have to organize and compile for the Court’s ease of reference, you will also be under a duty to create official documents without the Court’s assistance (or with only some online materials and the assistance of court officers who may be busy with other self-representing litigants).

Court documents have to be of a certain standard, have to include certain key information, and must comply with court rules. If you choose to represent yourself, you may fall short of the mark.

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The Deadlines

If you are juggling a job, your family commitments and a dispute in the courts at the same time, you may not have enough time to meet all the deadlines involved in criminal and civil litigation. Often, self-representing clients change their minds and engage an experienced lawyer to represent them instead.

Public Speaking

Whether we like it or not, how well you present yourself and your case in Court is as important as the rights and wrongs of the matter. In Court, you should be comfortable at speaking to the courtroom and answering questions put to you by other parties to the litigation and the judge.

Emotions

As much as you would like to keep your emotions in check while representing yourself, we are but emotional human beings, and in very difficult cases, it might be difficult for you to keep your cool, especially when the opposing side comes up with theories or versions of events which are patently false to you. Emotions cloud thought and work against a cogent argument. Instead of pointing out deficiencies in the opposing side’s case and evidence, you may resort to emotional arguments and may even resort to the occasional emotional outburst in Court. It might be best to engage a lawyer instead.

Reading and Research

Often, especially in complex cases, you have to expect to spend hours poring pages upon pages of material. The facts themselves are not enough. The facts have to be seen against the law, which is represented in statutes, laws, procedures, rules and past cases. You may also need to do additional research to shore up your own case on various issues. A trained lawyer may just be the best option for you if you are not prepared for all the reading and research involved.

Facing Off Against Legal Professionals In Court

If the other side is represented by a lawyer, you may have your work cut out for you. Lawyers are trained professionals who know the decorum expected in Court, the rules of Court by which they are to argue their cases and exactly how to present their cases in Court. While many lawyers are prepared to guide you through the process even if they are opposing you, their primary duty and responsibility is to their client and presenting the best possible cases for their clients. It is always prudent to proceed with care. In our view, unless absolutely necessary to do otherwise, it is always better for you to engage a lawyer to represent you instead.

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Possibility Of Self-Incrimination

If you decide to represent yourself in Court, you have to be keenly aware that while attempting to defend or represent yourself, you may be saying things or signing off affidavits that contain statements that actually incriminate against you and make your case seem even worse. You may not be fully aware of what is actually required of a successful legal defence or case. For example, you may focus your whole defence on the fact that you acted in a certain manner because you were provoked when the law does not even recognize provocation as a mitigating factor in the first place. The Court may even infer that you over-reacted to such minimal provocation and draw an inference against you. Experienced lawyers, on the other hand, know exactly what the law and the Court is looking for and know exactly what to leave out or include in your case presented to the Court.

Rules and Practice Directions

All self-representing litigants are expected to know and abide by the rules of Court. The Court will not give you free rein to conduct your case as you please just because you are not represented by a lawyer. Your case can never be that you are unaware of court procedures. Even if you are losing a trial, you conduct yourself because of your ignorance of some of the court rules and procedures; the judge is under a duty to remain impartial and will not waive the rules of Court for your sake. The judge in your case may offer some guidance regarding the court procedures you face but will not advise you what you should say or do to successfully litigate your case in Court.

So What Should You Do If You Really Don’t Have The Money?

  • Do Consider whether you qualify for legal aid. Please approach the Ministry of Law’s Legal Aid Bureau for further assistance.
  • If yours is a criminal matter, do consider the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) under the auspices of the Law Society of Singapore, which may provide you with a lawyer, provided that you:
    • meet the means test requirements in respect of your income and disposable assets; and
    • want representation for offences under the following statutes:
      • Arms & Explosives Act
      • Arms Offences Act
      • Computer Misuse Act
      • Corrosive and Explosive Substances & Offensive Weapons Act
      • Dangerous Fireworks Act
      • Enlistment Act
      • Explosive Substances Act
      • Films Act
      • Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act
      • Misuse of Drugs Act
      • Moneylender’s Act (Cap 188) [Ss 14 and 28]
      • Penal Code
      • Prevention of Corruption Act
      • Sub-sections 65(8) and 140(1)(i) of the Women’s Charter
      • Undesirable Publications Act
      • Vandalism Act
  • Consider the Community Justice Centre’s (CJC’s) HELP Services Centre, which offers various programmes to assist self-represented accused persons. For example:
    • On-site Legal Advice Scheme – free consultation with a volunteer for 20 minutes. Do note that the lawyer is not allowed to represent you in Court.
    • Primary Justice Project (Criminal) – a lawyer can help you make representations at meetings with the prosecution and/or a judge.
    • CJC Guidance for Plea Scheme (GPS) – volunteer lawyers can assist you in determining the viability of your defence.
    • Friends of Litigants-in-Person (FLiP) – This initiative provides self-represented litigants with emotional support and practical guidance on the processes and procedures involved in a criminal proceeding. Take note – this is only open to litigants charged with less severe offences, such as theft and public order offences.
Need Advice ?

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At Lions Chambers LLC, we pride ourselves on being responsive. We understand that some problems need immediate attention, let us assist you.

How We Can Help You

Nothing beats experience. Trained lawyers have the knowledge, training and experience which you lack. Some of them know the lawyers they face up against, the court clerks and the judges. They have experience interviewing and questioning witnesses, have argued before the Court many times before and have presented opening and closing arguments. They know when to raise objections and the rules of evidence. This list could go on.

It is always a better idea to engage an experienced lawyer to present your case in Court in the best possible manner. It is unlikely that you can do so on your own.

Lions Chambers LLC is an established law firm in Singapore. Our team of lawyers specialise in various areas of law and will be able to assist you. Our consultations are free. Please call +65 8777 3677 or click here to WhatsApp us today.

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