Deciding to represent yourself in court is a big decision. There are many instances where seeking legal advice is a good idea.
When deciding whether to represent yourself, consider if you:
- have the time and resources to prepare for your matter
- have the required legal skills
- can speak confidently to a judicial officer.
There are many reasons why it is better to have a lawyer represent you as they:
- understand how the legal system works
- know the timeframes for submitting court documents
- can indicate if you need to pay court fees
- can argue your case
- can explain any court outcomes and decisions.
If you are concerned about your wellbeing or need help, see the find support section.
Preparing for court
Representing yourself can be difficult. You may have to put off daily commitments and organise time to prepare for your case. Attending court and watching a similar case to yours can be a good way of understanding the court process.
Court staff – called registrars – can explain how the court system works, but they cannot provide legal advice. See the registrars page for more information.
You may also need to decide whether you will call any witnesses. See the witnesses page for more information. The court is a formal environment, so please dress appropriately.
Legal words and terms can be confusing. Judicial officers, registrars and lawyers may use different names to refer to the same thing. See the legal terms page for a summary of commonly used legal terms.
Coming to court
We recommend you arrive at least 30 minutes before your court time. Bring the summons and any documents relevant to the case. This may include police statements, photos, contracts, victim impact statement or any other relevant information.
The court is a formal environment, so please dress appropriately.
To keep the court safe, everyone goes through a security screening. This is to stop dangerous items being brought into court. See the safety and security page for more information.
Straight after the security screening, go to the courts counter – called the registry - and tell the registrar you have arrived.
The registrar can provide you with information including:
- finding your way to the right courtroom
- helping link you with the lawyer, police prosecutor or person that asked you to give evidence
- directing you to other court or support services.
On the day you may have to wait a while before your case is called, so it is a good idea to bring something to help pass the time.
If you need to leave the building, be aware the security screening on re-entry may take some time. If your matter is called and you cannot be found, the court may assume you have not appeared. A judicial officer may determine your matter in your absence. Depending on the type of matter, a judicial officer can issue a warrant for your arrest, award costs to the other party, or dismiss an application if you do not attend.
When you enter the courtroom do not:
- eat, drink or chew gum
- have your mobile phone switched on
- use electronic devices
- wear a hat or a pair of sunglasses.
Refer to the criminal matters or civil matters sections for general information about the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria processes.
You should address a judicial officer as sir, madam or your honour and stand when you are speaking. It is also part of the court protocol to stand when the judicial officer enters and leaves the courtroom.
For more information, download the Victoria Law Foundation’s what do I call the judge’ publication.
Being polite is very important. When your matter is called, stand at the table in the middle of the courtroom – called the bar table - until the magistrate invites you to speak.
If you are representing yourself in a criminal matter, you may also have to enter a plea. You should seek legal advice before entering a plea of guilty. See the pleading guilty or not guilty page for more information.
Accessing legal resources
If you decide to represent yourself in court, it will be your responsibility to research your matter and find the resources to do that.
Some well-known legal resources are:
Case law is part of common law legal systems and refers to decisions which establish a new interpretation of the law and are cited as a precedent or authority in subsequent court cases.