Representing Yourself in Criminal Court
Do I need to hire a lawyer if I am charged with a criminal offence?
A -It is always a good idea to get legal advice and to have a lawyer represent you in court. Lawyers know the law and legal procedures. They are used to presenting cases and speaking in court. They know what types of questions to ask and how to prepare evidence. However, if you are unable or do not wish to hire a lawyer, you can represent yourself in court. But you should first get some legal advice.
Regardless of what offence you have been charged with you have the right to represent yourself, to be your own lawyer. But just because you can represent yourself does not mean you should. It is very important that you learn about what is at stake in your case, and what you will be expected to do and know in order to handle it on your own.
Do I need to speak to a lawyer to get legal advice before I go to court?
A – Yes. Being accused of a crime is a serious matter. It is worth talking with a lawyer to get advice on your situation, even if you decide to plead guilty or you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you in court. The outcome can affect your future if you are convicted (found guilty at trail or plead guilty). For example, you may get a criminal record and, depending on the offence, you might be sent to prison. A criminal conviction can affect your ability to get a job and to travel outside Canada.
Can I get a free lawyer or a legal-aid lawyer?
A – While you have a right to hire a lawyer, you do not have a right to a government- funded lawyer if you cannot afford to pay for one. Depending on your financial situation and the seriousness of the offence, you may qualify for Legal Aid. Most courts provide duty counsel; however, they can only give you free preliminary advice and assistance for your first few appearances. Duty counsel cannot act as your lawyer throughout your case and they cannot act as your lawyer during your trial.
Can I talk to a lawyer for free when I have been arrested?
A – If you are arrested by the police, they must tell you that you have a right to speak with a lawyer. Always use your right to speak with a lawyer. Legal Aid Duty Counsel is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for people who have been arrested or detained by the police. It is free to talk with Legal Aid Duty Counsel. However, if you have a particular private lawyer that you would like to contact, you are entitled to request your lawyer by name – AND you should make sure to speak to your own lawyer anytime you are in police custody.
The police must also tell you that you have a right to remain silent and that anything you do say may be used as evidence against you. You should talk with a lawyer before you say anything to the police.
How will I know what offences I am charged with?
A – There are offences under federal laws such as the Criminal Code of Canada. These are called criminal offences. There are also offences under federal laws such as the Controlled Drugs and substances Act. These are also called criminal offences. There are offences under provincial laws such as the Motor Vehicle Act. These are not criminal offences, but can still have serious consequences.
No matter what type of offence you are charged with, you will receive a written notice describing the offence, the date of the offence and the law you have allegedly broken. For example, if you are charged with shoplifting, the notice may say “theft under $5,000 contrary to section 334(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada.”