In Hong Kong courts, parties to legal proceedings are entitled to represent themselves. While they have the right to legal representation (as guaranteed by the Basic Law), they can also choose not to be represented by a lawyer. Those who choose to represent themselves are referred to as Litigants in Person (LIPs).
Lawyer-representation VS self-representation
Some people may choose to represent themselves in court because they think that it is better to talk to the judge or jury directly, or they cannot afford the legal fees. While you can choose to represent yourself or to be represented by a lawyer in legal proceedings, there are pros and cons with each option:
Type of Representation
|Lawyer-representation||As lawyers have the relevant legal knowledge and experience, they are more well-equipped and experienced in structuring arguments with enough relevant legal authorities and evidence. They would also know how to defend possible arguments raised by the opposite party.||It is often very costly to hire lawyers without getting legal aid because they usually charge by the hour and a case can go on for years if not months.|
|There may be different consequences to making certain moves in a case, and a LIP may overlook one option and suffer the consequences. A lawyer can assist in prioritising the consequences and advising on the option with less severe adverse effects.||As lawyers have more than one case to deal with at a time, they may not be able to spare as much time and focus on handling one case as a LIP would.|
|Self-representation||Representing yourself in court saves legal costs as lawyers are usually expensive to hire if you cannot obtain legal aid.||It is difficult for LIPs to win arguments by using “common sense” because there must be sufficient evidence and legal authorities to support the arguments.|
|With technological advances, it has become easier and more common for people to represent themselves in court because they have more access to legal knowledge through the internet.||A LIP may overlook items or emotional speeches that can be used against them by the opposite party in court.|
Nevertheless, if you choose to represent yourself because you cannot afford the legal costs, you may still be able to get legal aid by making an application to the relevant court. Legal aid is available to committal proceedings in the Magistrates’ Courts as well as cases in the District Court, the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal, the Court of Final Appeal, the Mental Health Review Tribunal and the Coroner’s Court. If you can satisfy the criteria regarding financial eligibility and merits for defending or taking the legal proceedings, you will obtain legal aid and a lawyer will be assigned to you. For more details on the Legal Aid Schemes in Hong Kong, you may visit https://www.lad.gov.hk/eng/las/las.html and/or https://www.gov.hk/en/residents/government/legal/advice/advice.htm.
What kind of assistance can I get as a LIP?
If you are unable to obtain legal aid or if you still wish to represent yourself, you may also get other types of assistance that ensure that you will receive a fair hearing:
- The Procedural Advice Scheme: This Scheme is available to LIPs to obtain free legal advice on matters relating to civil procedures. However, the Scheme is only available to parties to civil proceedings in the Family Court, the District Court, the Lands Tribunal, the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal. It is not available to parties to civil proceedings in other tribunals or any criminal proceedings. For more details about the Scheme, you may visit https://www.admwing.gov.hk/eng/public_service/paso.html.
- McKenzie friend: A McKenzie friend is someone who supports a LIP in court. Subject to the judge’s permission, you may be allowed to have a “McKenzie friend” in court to support you, give advice and take notes. However, they cannot sign any documents on your behalf, interfere with the proceedings or speak on your behalf. A McKenzie friend does not need to have any professional legal qualifications, and they can be a family member, a friend, a voluntary helper attached to charities or institutions, or a fee-charging McKenzie friend.
- You have the right to choose to be represented by a lawyer or to represent yourself in court proceedings.
- There are pros and cons of lawyer-representation and self-representation.
- However, it is better that you hire a lawyer to represent you because they can provide professional advice on the matter.
- If you are unable to afford the legal costs, you can apply for legal aid.
- Even if you represent yourself, you can obtain assistance from the Procedural Advice Scheme or have a McKenzie friend attend the court hearings with you.
- Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, ‘Litigants without Legal Representation’: https://www.hkcfa.hk/en/about/procedures/litigants/faq/index.html
- Judiciary, ‘Resource Centre for Unrepresented Litigants’: https://rcul.judiciary.hk/rc/cover.htm
- Hong Kong Government, ‘Pilot scheme on free legal advice for litigants in person to launch next Monday (with photos)’: https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201303/14/P201303140430.htm