Representing yourself in court – what to do before you go to court
You have the right to represent yourself in court without a solicitor or any other legal professional.
In the second of a series of articles Everyday Legal looks at what you’ll need to do before you go to court if you have decided to represent yourself in court.
Factors to consider before going to court
There’s no point taking someone to court and then finding out that they don’t have any money to pay you compensation. You can find out whether your opponent has money or assets by conducting some searches such as searching on land registry to see if they own any property and if they do whether there are any debts secured on it. Companies House will be able to provide you with financial information about a business or an individual in a professional capacity whilst the Charity Commission can give information about the accounts of registered charities. If the person you’re taking to court is bankrupt or their money and assets are all abroad then there’s no point taking court action against them.
Identifying the defendant
You’ll need to be able to identify who is responsible for the cause of your complaint – that is the person who made the decision, made the mistake or delivered the service that caused you the problem. If more than one person is involved then you’ll have more than one defendant in your case. Once you’re clear who the defendant is you’ll need to find them and both central and local records may be able to help you with this search eg: the Electoral Register.
There are strict rules about how much time you have in which to start your court proceedings and, in most cases, if you don’t start your court action within the time limit you won’t be able to go ahead.
The person who starts the court case has to prove their case by providing evidence. Evidence is information which proves the facts of your case. There are different types of evidence:
- Oral evidence – what you or a witness says about the events underlying the case. The evidence must be based on facts NOT opinions and on your knowledge (or the knowledge of your witness) not hearsay. A court will only take account of someone’s opinion if they are an expert witness. You’ll need the court’s permission to use to use expert evidence in court.
- Real evidence – an object you use to prove a disputed fact eg: a defective machine part.
- Documentary evidence – eg: estimates, receipts, invoices, quotations, letters, emails etc
The strongest evidence is often information given by an independent witness.
In addition to collecting evidence to support your case you’ll need to think about the case the defendant might present and collect evidence to disprove what they’re saying.
Check that any witnesses you want are clear about their role and that they are happy to document and sign a witness statement. Witnesses can be helpful to your case if they give clear and direct evidence but they can be unhelpful if they are vague or nervous or they don’t show up at all.
Weighing up the costs of a court case
If you do decide to go to court you’ll face a range of costs:
- Legal costs – you could have to pay your opponent’s costs as well as your own
- Court fees – you usually have to pay these up front
- You may have to pay more than one court fee during your case
And you may end up worse off if you lose your case as you’ll have paid these fees.
Also be aware of these considerations if you take a case to court:
- Time commitment – you may have to take time off work and you’ll also need time to prepare your case
- Travel to and from court – you may not be allocated the same court throughout your case
- The stress of dealing with an unfamiliar, formal process
- You may need to take further action to secure your court award.