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Do I Really Need a Criminal Lawyer?

The short answer is – no

A lawyer is not a necessity nor a requirement for court. A person has the right to appear in court unrepresented, regardless of whether their matter is in the Local, District, Supreme or any other court. There are some minor exceptions to this whereby a legal practitioner will be assigned to an unrepresented person for the purpose of cross-examining vulnerable persons or alleged victims of certain crimes. A better question to ask yourself or your loved one who is appearing in court is: “Should I get a lawyer?”

The short answer is – yes

Whether you’re facing a criminal conviction for the first time, the loss of your licence or the prospect of a jail sentence there is always a lot on the line. Not only is there a lot at stake but appearing in court is a daunting process and is made all the more difficult by the complex rules, practices and procedures that exist in our criminal justice system.

An unrepresented defendant will be helped by the presiding judicial officer, but only to a certain extent. A judicial officer cannot give legal advice to an unrepresented defendant. They cannot advise them on how the defendant should plead, what evidence they should call, what evidence might be detrimental to their case and when they might want to object to evidence being led by the prosecution – among other things. Though some evidence will not be admissible, and will be deemed so by the judicial officer, some evidence will be admissible unless an objection is raised.

To give yourself the best chance of obtaining the best possible outcome in the circumstances you should get legal advice and representation from an early opportunity. Every decision along the way counts. Legal advice prior to deciding whether or not to give a statement to police can shape the defences or options available to you. Working with a lawyer to determine what evidence to lead in your trial can make the difference between being found guilty or not guilty and deciding what evidence to tender in your sentencing hearing can make the difference between a conviction and a non-conviction.

An unrepresented defendant often lacks the knowledge, skill and experience that their opponent, the prosecution, has. They are at an instant disadvantage. An unrepresented defendant may also struggle with answering any legal questions or issues raised by the judicial officer.

Criminal law, evidence law and court practice and procedure are all extremely complex. A law degree is only a starting point. Criminal lawyers have knowledge, skill and experience when it comes to criminal matters. They are well practised in the art of advocacy and communication in the courtroom. These are things that are very useful when one comes head to head with the prosecution in court.

Regardless of whether your matter is your first offence for drink driving in the Local Court or a much more serious offence which you wish to take to trial in the District Court choosing the right criminal lawyer will always increase your chances of obtaining the best outcome. The right lawyer will help you from start to finish and ensure every decision along the way is the best one. From helping you select and review your character references to conducting the sentence hearing on your behalf, a lawyer will apply the relevant legal and evidentiary principles to ensure the best case is advocated on your behalf.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Michelle Makela

This article was written by Michelle Makela

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

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