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self-representation has its pros and cons

published

i had a contest mention on the 19th of july in the magistrates court.

i went up and told the clerk i was there, even though i wasn’t sure i had to do that, she gave me some small attitude for not being a professional, which is to be stupid.

my case was called up pretty early on, the courtroom was still quite full, i said ‘good morning your honour, i’m kyle magee, representing myself’, then i said to the prosecution ‘so are you going to read the summary or what?’.

one of the prosecutors laughed at my informal court-room manner.

i can’t remember exactly what happened, but the magistrate asked me if i was pleading not guilty, i said ‘yes, this is a contest mention’, then i told him i was running a human rights defence, claiming my actions were protected under section 15 of the charter.

the magistrate then started questioning my ability to represent myself, i told him i was receiving instruction and advice from lawyers, he then started saying he wanted me to go see legal aid, i tried to assure him this was not necessary, he then told me to sit down and said we’ll just listen to the summary.

the magistrate then had a sudden change of heart and said he was going to stand this case down and deal with it later.

i held my hands up, as if to express ‘what the fuck?’, and make my displeasure clear, then i got up and took a seat back in the spectator seats.

i sat through the entire morning session, lunch was called at 1, i came back at 2, and after all the other cases were recalled and dealt with, and the court room was all but empty, my case was recalled.

i was mildly irritated to have received the bum’s rush, so i spoke with intensity, explaining to the magistrate my opinions on the media and democracy and why i had chosen this avenue of activism as i was totally dissatisfied with the verbalism sanctioned by law.

he then put his ten cents worth in, saying in his 28 years he had never seen a case like this succeed, i failed to interject that the human rights charter has only in full effect in victoria since 1st January 2008, instead i spoke of a precedent in the supreme court of canada where a council by-law prohibiting postering was overturned as an undue restriction on freedom of expression, a protected human right.

he then said, ‘i’m sure that case was a little different’ and i said, ‘yes, it was different, in that case the accused was putting up posters for his band, an entirely self-interested expression, whereas in my case my expression is political – political expressions attracting a higher level of protection under the charter.’

the magistrate was also at one point implying that i was wasting court time, so i said ‘if you want to stop charging me (an error on my behalf, the police charge me) i’m happy to stop wasting court time, but if i am going to be charged then i am going to defend myself’.

in the end the magistrate did apologise for making me wait all day, i said ‘no worries’ even though considerable ‘worries’ had been caused.

it was satisfying to be able to talk back to the magistrate — even as i explained that i was on the disability support pension for crippling depression, i was able to say things that a lawyer wouldn’t or couldn’t say, direct from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

i explained the hurdles that feeling and acting this way put in the way of paid employment and spoke of how my depression was entirely based on a depressing reality, that no drugs or therapies (which i have previously engaged in) could help me, that only acting in the way that i do and running these defence cases held any interest or meaning for me.

in the end, i think i was able to demonstrate that i am not stupid, the magistrate even remarked at one point that i was intelligent (which i read as the beginning stages of an attempt to divert me into academia, and immediately launched into a criticism of the inaction of the knowledgable as the world goes to shit), and although i was honest about being depressed, i don’t think it harms my case when i can speak for myself and articulate my inability to live in a world like this and the necessity of me standing up for what i believe in.

when i represent myself it has always started with an assumption of stupidity and/or mental illness, which i then must try to dispel by making the right combination of sounds out of my mouth — it is an insulting and frustrating process, but at least at the end of it i can be pretty sure the magistrate sees me as a person, maybe even a person equal to them.

this makes me think that when i am represented by someone else, and sit there in silence in my ‘unusual’ clothes with my long, sallow face, the magistrate just doesn’t have to reveal that they think i am stupid and/or mentally ill, and they will go to judgement and sentencing still thinking i am stupid and/or mentally ill.

when i represent myself, i have to deal with the annoyance of initial disrespect, but at least at the end of the ordeal they see me as a ‘normal’ person, i am humanised by being able to speak for myself.

being white, growing up and learning english in australia, and being able to speak in the language of the ‘upper’ classes is a massive advantage (even though the magistrate this time was a person of colour, i don’t think that necessarily makes him immune to the racism and classism that operates in our legal system, clarence thomas comes to mind).

the annoying thing is that at the next court date, the contest hearing, booked in for 2 hours on the morning of the 20th of august, i will be in front of a new magistrate and will have to go through the whole process of proving myself again.

it was actually this prejudice from magistrates that lead me to stop representing myself 3 or 4 years ago, when i decided to have james anderson from legal aid represent me instead.

that period of being represented by lawyers showed me the value of running an actual legal argument as opposed to a logical one — the result might well be the same, but at least you draw them into making a human rights judgment that reveals them for what they are, and can then appeal it to higher courts (an event worthy of some shit media coverage) — a logical argument is just dismissed as irrelevant no matter how powerfully it is made.

i just need to get better at proving myself to magistrates, i am considering tackling the issue straight off the bat by saying what normally happens and asking the magistrate what i need to do to satisfy them of my ability to represent myself — see what happens.