GOING to court without legal representation is daunting for anyone who is not familiar with the law or the court processes.
There are many reasons you may find yourself before a court including disputes over debts, with a neighbour, family law matter, a contested will or even contesting a fine.
You may not have legal representation because of the cost of a lawyer, limits to the kind of areas Legal Aid assist or because legal representation is not permitted.
Disputes relating to neighbouring trees and fences, small debt matters or goods and services can be heard in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) where legal representation is generally not allowed.
On the Sunshine Coast, QCAT is heard in the same place as the local magistrates court.
Legal Aid can help with serious criminal matters and family law claims if you qualify for assistance but do not cover most traffic related matters before the court unless it involves dangerous driving causing death or resulted in a manslaughter charge.
Local volunteer community legal services, such as the Suncoast Community Legal Service can provide preliminary advice and assistance in all areas of law and help prepare you for court or QCAT.
It is important you familiarise yourself with the law related to your case and the processes of the court and seek out advice where you can.
The court staff and registry can be very helpful in providing you with procedural advice such as the correct forms to fill in and fees you need to pay.
The Queensland Court and Legal Aid websites have a lot of information guides to help in preparing a person for court.
If you are before the court without legal representation and facing criminal charges you will often first be speaking directly with the police prosecutor who will ask if you are pleading guilty, not guilty or seeking an adjournment.
The police prosecutor will tell you basic information about the court process prior to an appearance before a magistrate.
It is important to arrive to court on time and advisable to be there early to allow time to speak with court staff, Legal Aid or the police prosecutor if you are not sure what to do.
Basic court etiquette includes standing and bowing when a magistrate or judge enters and leaves the court and referring to them as “your Honour”.
The court room is a serious environment and you should always dress in a neat and clean manner and conservatively if possible as the way you dress indicates respect to the court.
Despite the complications of the legal system and the court environment judges, magistrates and tribunal members are trained and accustomed to proceedings where persons are representing themselves at court and will provide procedural fairness to all parties.
In contested legal proceedings there are limitations to what is appropriate and necessary to ensure procedural fairness whilst maintaining balance between two competing claims and the court will ensure everyone is subject to the same rules of law.
For this reason, a person intending on representing themselves should do all they can to seek out advice and assistance and obtain as much information as possible in prior preparation before going to court.