Should you represent yourself in a criminal court?

People often ask this question because they know they are not eligible for legal aid or they may think they are not eligible, although they may not have checked this with a solicitor.

A recent study by Dr Charlotte Walker of York St John University revealed the following:

“In this study, in Court A, in 80 out of 220 (36%) hearings, the defendant appeared unrepresented; and in Court B, this was the case in 25 out of 183 (14%) hearings.

The defendants appeared without legal representation in 105 out of 403 (26%) hearings in total, which represents a significant minority.

Based upon the observations and interviews, this was due to a range of reasons including financial factors; defendants not wanting to delay proceedings; and defendants not seeing the value of having a lawyer.”


While acknowledging that perhaps not every person appearing before a criminal court needs legal representation, in most cases it would seem to make sense for defendants to ensure that all angles are covered. Ironically, some of the seemingly more basic cases, such as road traffic, often throw up the trickiest legal issues. Furthermore, legal aid where it is available, is an entitlement.

According to Dr Walker, numerous studies have found that unrepresented defendants tend to struggle to represent themselves in court (Dell 1971, McBarnet 1981, Shapland 1981, Transform Justice 2016, Walker 2021).


Can I afford it?

If you are eligible for legal aid in the magistrates’ court, there is no cost to you. In the crown court, a contribution may be payable depending on your income. We can tell you in advance what the rules are in this regard.

Where legal aid is not available, many people are surprised at how affordable “private representation” can be. In general, while the common perception of ‘fat cat’ hourly rates may be true of solicitors providing corporate and commercial legal services, pricing in criminal law is much more competitive with fixed fees starting at £300 plus VAT and numerous payment options available for cases involving higher costs.

While there is no ‘one answer’ to funding your criminal case, you should always contact us for free to find out more about the options available. Put simply, there is nothing to lose but, potentially, a great deal to be gained.


How can we help?

With over 30 years’ experience of criminal defence work, we make sure that we stay up to date with any changes in the law and procedure. This means that we are always able to give our clients the best possible legal advice.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact Tarsem Salhan on 0121 605 6000 or at