Right to defend yourself

As an accused in a criminal trial, you have the right to defend yourself during all stages of the criminal proceedings and the trial in court.

You have a right to defend yourself at all stages of criminal proceedings (pre-trial as well as in court). This means that you have the right to refuse a lawyer and use all the rights of defence on your own. If you are carrying out your own defence, you have to be given appropriate time and the facilities to prepare your defence. 

example You have to be given access to the case file, reasonable time to prepare and the possibility to be present at the court hearing. 

The fact that you have chosen to defend yourself does not mean that you will be given more beneficial treatment in court. It means that you will have the same obligation to comply with all time limits and submit all the documents required by the court as if you were being defended by a qualified lawyer.

Exceptions

However, your right to defend yourself is not absolute. In certain situations, if it is in the interests of delivering a fair and just judgement, the court can assign a mandatory lawyer for your defence. The presence of a lawyer is mandatory in:

  • cases against a minor 
  • proceedings concerning compulsory medical treatment
  • proceedings regarding the exoneration of a deceased person
  • cases where the accused is suffering from a mental or physical health impairment that prevents a full use of his/her procedural rights

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education