Can I be my own lawyer?

By Last Updated: March 16, 2022

If you have been charged with an offence, technically you are entitled to act on your own behalf in defending against the charges. Acting as your own representative is inadvisable, however, where the allegations and charges are complex, and the potential consequences you may face are serious. Indeed, a famous quote familiar to most lawyers goes as follows:

“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

Many successful legal arguments are highly technical and nuanced, and you will do yourself a disservice if you are unable to advance potential defences due to a lack of familiarity with the law. A criminal conviction may result in a criminal record, fines, living under restrictive probation conditions, or even jail time.

There are also other tangible limitations to being your own lawyer.  One problem with being your own lawyer is that it makes it very difficult to negotiate with a Crown Prosecutor. If you are the accused person, the prosecutor will be reluctant to discuss the merits of the case with you directly because anything you say to the prosecutor can be used against you later in court.  Thus, a Crown Prosecutor may become a witnesses against you if you say something incriminating or inconsistent to them, and they are typically reluctant to put themselves in this type of situation.  One advantage of having a lawyer speak to the prosecutor for you is that nothing the lawyer says can really be used later on to incriminate you directly.

Another problem with being your own lawyer arises particularly in situations of violent offences.  In these cases, even if you wanted to run your own case, the prosecutor and the judge would not allow you to question the alleged victim in the case directly. Typically, the prosecutor would apply to the judge to have a lawyer appointed for you for the purposes of cross-examination of the alleged victim.  The appointed lawyer would only be assigned for a limited purpose, which makes it difficult to do as good a job as having a lawyer from the very beginning of the case.

To summarize, although you are entitled to act as your own representative, given the potential for serious repercussions you may face as a result of your charges, it is likely in your best interest to seek professional legal assistance.

About The Author

Michael Oykhman

Managing Partner

Michael Oykhman is a senior lawyer and founder of Strategic Criminal Defence, a full-service criminal law firm with central law offices across Western Canada and Ontario.

My professional experience consists of countless court appearances and thousands of successful defences and satisfied clients. Over the last 10 years, I have worked to build a law office where all the lawyers share our collective experience, resources, and passion to help people. Our team approach to legal representation is client–rather than only law–centred. We look for opportunities to add value to our clients through strategic thinking and creative solutions.

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