Navigating the Legal Maze: The Risks of Self-Representation in Court

Sep 12, 2023 | , , , , , , | News

South African Law grants every individual the right to represent themselves in legal proceedings. This right aligns with our constitutional right to a fair trial. 

While the option to represent oneself may seem cost-effective, it comes with significant risks, potentially leading to misunderstandings of the law and serious consequences.

Legal Representation

We now delve into the practicalities and hazards of self-representation in civil legal proceedings.

South African Courts follow the adversarial system of civil procedure. Under this system, litigants present their cases in an open Court, while the presiding officer, Judge/ Magistrate, acts as an impartial adjudicator. 

This system guarantees all parties a fair opportunity to present their argument; proceedings are generally open to the public; and evidence is evaluated objectively and rationally. 

In circumstances where a litigant lacks legal representation, the judicial officer is obligated to take a more committed role in assisting said litigant. This ensures that the legal process remains accessible to those without legal expertise.


Is it really necessary for me to retain legal representation?

The legal process involves intricate procedures, document drafting, and Court navigation – often challenging even the most skilled in the legal profession. 

Attorneys undergo years of rigorous training to interpret and apply the law, becoming highly skilled in their chosen field of litigation and negotiation. 

In civil proceedings, it’s customary for legal practitioners to represent litigants in various Courts, ensuring a smoother legal journey. 

Preparing for Court is only part of the process. Understanding Court procedures, timelines, practice directives, evidence, and the appropriate use of Court documents is essential, and also a whole different ball game. 

Legal practitioners excel at presenting evidence favorably, while self-represented litigants may unknowingly make detrimental statements or admissions.


Opting for self-representation can impact legal proceedings in various negative ways: 

  • Time Constraints: Ignoring legal timeframes can lead to default judgments or having your case struck from the roll;
  • Prescription: Waiting too long to initiate legal action can result in the prescription of your claim, rendering it invalid; and
  • Costs: Losing a case may lead to you bearing not only your costs but also those of the opposing party.

My friend is representing me…

While it’s possible to have a friend or family member represent you in Court, it’s crucial to note that in South Africa, representing someone in Court without being a qualified and admitted legal representative is a criminal offense.


But litigious fees can burn a hole in my wallet.

Yes, regrettably legal costs can be a significant barrier for many individuals. There are however alternatives to self-representation:

  • Legal Aid South Africa: This non-profit organization offers legal advice and representation to those who cannot afford it; and
  • Contingency Fee Agreement: You can enter into an agreement with an attorney – no win, no fee basis.


While representing yourself in legal proceedings is possible, you are strongly advised against doing so. Self-representation, especially in complex civil or criminal cases, can lead to detrimental consequences. It’s essential to weigh the potential risks and benefits carefully before proceeding without legal guidance.

The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on or 021 556 9864 to speak to one of our attorneys.

Zahnri Griebenow

Zahnri Griebenow

Zahnri joined CK as an associate in April 2023.

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