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Stoke Newington Chambers

What it’s like to represent yourself in court

Posted on: October 2nd, 2017 | in Advocacy, Direct Access Barristers, DIY Law

If you are thinking about representing yourself in court without getting legal advice first, do yourself a big favour and read this article written by Emily Dugan. It’s an excellent insight of what can happen to the wo/man who is her/his own lawyer.

Of all the stories Emily Dugan notes, Mohammed’s sums up the risk of acting as your own lawyer.

“Mohammed is several months behind on his £650 monthly payments for an Audi A7. The lender’s website quotes interest rates of up to 52.7% for people who cannot get credit elsewhere.

When Mohammed had a good job as an insurance adviser the money already ate up all but £150 of his disposable income. But in January he wrote off the car at a traffic light and was unable to claim for it on insurance. A month later he lost his job, which relied on having a car to travel to meet clients.

Now he says he is working part-time doing deliveries for a restaurant using their car. “I’ve left my rented apartment and moved back in with my parents with my wife. It’s been a tough few months,” he concedes”.

Mohammed decided to go it alone

“He couldn’t afford a lawyer to fight for the car but is convinced he will be ok. “I’ve got a genuine case to argue myself; I don’t need to get someone to argue for me,” he says. He has paid off £22,500 so far on the car and still owes £9,000”.

How a false premise can lose a case

  1. Had Mohammed contacted a direct access barrister, they may have quoted a £250-£500 fixed fee for advice. That advice could have included whether the insurance company was right in rejecting his claim – as well as whether he had an argument in law to counter the lender’s arguments.
  2. Courts aren’t about whether a person has a “genuine” case or emotion. All the court is going to be interested in is how the law applies to what’s happening in your case.

When my car’s transmission died, I could have bought a book or tried to figure out how I could fix it online, but I thought I’d be better off with someone who knows about transmissions – and whether it is worth me having it repaired.

Seeing a qualified direct access barrister or a solicitor is no different.

But back to the courtroom and Emily Dugan’s article

“Soon after the case opens, the judge asks Mohammed: “Have you had the opportunity to take any legal advice prior to today?”

In a small voice he answers: “No”.

When asked for his arguments, Mohammed struggles. “I’m going to make the payments, no doubt about it,” he says, before explaining about losing his job and asking hopefully “if for about a year I can get some leniency for payments?”

In response, Hawkes makes a series of clear arguments as to why Mohammed is unlikely to pay.

The judge asks if there’s anything further Mohammed wants to add. “Just that I paid most of my term off. It would be sad to let the car go with just £9,000 left.”

In formal language the judge reads out a decision ordering the car to be returned to the lender, “pursuant to section 92 of the consumer credit act 1974” and turns to Hawkes to ask what costs apply. He details a bill of legal and court fees totalling £492.

Mohammed looks on aghast, and the judge asks: “Is there anything you want to say on the subject of costs?”

He replies, his voice now just a whisper: “The amount can’t be reduced to anything?”

“The claimants ability to pay unfortunately doesn’t apply,” the judge explains, making an order for the costs to be added to the outstanding sum owed to the lender”.

I think it’s a national disgrace that legal aid and the old 30 minutes of “legal help” paid for by the government has been decimated – and that most people in Mohammed’s situation will need to pay for advice.

The point is that neither political Party has made a manifesto promise to restore legal aid to its former glory. 

The other point is that the Bar needs to do much more to make the public aware that we are available to give reasonably priced fixed-fee advice, which in Mohammed’s case, may have given him the ammunition he needed to fight  – or which may have saved him the costs of losing in court.

My previous post, “These finding legal advice tips will amaze you” may be a good starting point.

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