January 4, 2014
Unrepresented defendants in the criminal court: a ticking timebomb?
“Just watched as court sent unrep’d def to prison. He didnt say a word through hearing, save his name & DOB. Turns out he was deaf”. This extraordinary tweet was posted by Oliver Gardner (@oliversgardner) of Howard’s Solicitors. I and other tweeters were horrified and the case begged many questions. How on earth did the court not realise the defendant was deaf? Surely no-one should ever be imprisoned if they don’t know what is going on? If imprisonment was a possibility, why was the man not represented? Only those in the court know the answers but the case makes me worry. There are already hundreds of people (including children) representing themselves in the criminal courts. Legal aid changes will create thousands more “litigants in person”. There is little help available to those representing themselves and the whole adversarial court process is designed to match lawyer against lawyer. Processes and procedures are difficult to understand and, if things go wrong, the appeal process is also pretty impenetrable to the lay person. What happened in one court over the Christmas period was a miscarriage of justice. I fear it may be the tip of a very big iceberg.