Last Updated 19 December 2016
Assistance from a friend or relative
Being in court is a stressful experience for many people so it can be helpful for a self-represented litigant to have someone to attend the hearing with them. Most courts and tribunals will allow parties to have a non-lawyer, sometimes called a ‘McKenzie friend’, assist them during a hearing. Whether a McKenzie friend is allowed, and the type of help they can give to a party, is subject to the discretion of the judicial officer hearing the matter.
Assistance from a judicial officer
Although a judicial officer is able to provide some assistance to help a self-represented litigant understand the proceedings, the need for impartiality dictates that they cannot give preferential treatment or legal advice to self-represented litigants regarding the application of the law and procedural rules. There is no obligation on a judicial officer to act as an advocate for a self-represented litigant or to waive the need for a self-represented litigant to comply fully with any procedural or legal rules that apply to their case.
In civil law proceedings guidelines for judicial officers are provided in the Supreme Court of Queensland’s Equal Treatment Benchbook.
There have been a number of cases in which the Family Court of Australia has discussed the assistance that a judicial officer is to provide a self-represented litigant. The guidelines that were developed include that a judicial officer should:
- tell self-represented litigants of the manner in which the trial will be conducted, including the order of witnesses and the right to cross-examine
- explain any procedures relevant to the litigation
- inform self-represented litigants that they have the right to object to inadmissible evidence and to claim privilege
- suggest any procedural steps that may be taken
- draw attention to any relevant law.
Assistance from registry staff
Registry staff may provide procedural information, but not legal advice. Procedural information may include advice about court rules and available forms, but does not extend to assistance with completing forms.
Queensland courts publish a factsheet outlining the differences between legal advice and procedural information.
For self-represented litigants in the Brisbane Supreme and District courts, there is a Self-Represented Litigants Service operated by registry staff at the Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law.
Assistance from services
The Queensland Public Interest Clearing House Incorporated provides legal help to self-represented litigants in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), the civil jurisdictions of the Supreme and District courts, the Queensland Court of Appeal, and the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court.
Court Network, a non-profit organisation, provides non-legal support and assistance to self-represented litigants (including those involved in criminal hearings), and operates out of the Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law (for litigants in the District and Supreme courts), the Magistrates Court and QCAT in Brisbane. Court Network also operates regionally in Townsville and Cairns in the Magistrates, District and Supreme courts.
Caxton Legal Centre Inc. provides a free Family Law Duty Lawyer service at the Commonwealth Law Courts to assist self-represented people, and a free Domestic and Family Violence Duty Lawyer service at the Brisbane Magistrates Court for self-represented respondents.