Not everyone can afford a criminal lawyer.
If you have been charged with a traffic offence, but you don’t have legal representation, you can still take steps to ensure the most positive outcome possible by representing yourself.
Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate the court system, and get the best result from your case.
Deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty
One of the first decisions you will have to make if you are facing a traffic offence is whether to plead guilty and accept the charges made against you, or to plead not guilty and defend yourself.
It can be tempting to plead guilty, particularly to a minor charge, as it means a quick end to the matter, but make sure you are aware of the consequences if you are found guilty.
You could face a period of disqualification from driving, fines or even a criminal conviction, depending on the nature of the offence.
Being disqualified from driving can have a significant impact on your life and make it difficult to get to work or drive your children to school.
A criminal conviction could limit your ability to travel or work in certain occupations in the future.
It is worth thinking carefully before accepting charges made against you and pleading guilty.
In many cases, you may be able to successfully defend yourself against traffic charges or at least persuade the magistrate not to proceed with a conviction.
Appearing in court
Your first court appearance will be for mention and you will be asked whether you plead guilty or not guilty.
If you choose to plead guilty, the matter will be finalised that day.
If you decide to plead not guilty, you will be given a future date for your hearing, which is usually a few weeks after your first appearance.
If you need legal advice before arraignment and you are representing yourself, you can speak to the duty solicitor at the court.
There will always be someone on duty to provide basic legal advice, and help you understand the court process.
Defending yourself in court
If you plan to plead not guilty to a traffic offence and represent yourself, you will need to prepare your defence.
Even if you can’t afford full legal representation, it can be extremely useful to consult with a solicitor or criminal lawyer for advice.
It is important that you make note of everything that happened leading up to the alleged offence being committed, including any extenuating circumstances.
You will need to provide documentation wherever possible to support your defence.
This can include medical and psychological reports and statements from anyone else who was involved and can support your case.
During the trial you will be given the chance to cross-examine any witnesses for the prosecution, and bring in your own witnesses to support your case.
Once the evidence has been heard for both sides, the magistrate will decide whether to drop the charges, or proceed with a criminal conviction.
Depending on the severity of your traffic offence, you may face a number of different penalties, including a fine, disqualification from driving, community service, good behaviour bond and a full time jail sentence.
If you have any questions about the court process, or how to represent yourself, speaking to a lawyer beforehand may help.