I’ve been charged with a crime. How do I defend myself?

Last reviewed May 2024 by the Clicklaw editors

If you’re charged with a crime, you have legal rights. The resources below provide a good starting point for understanding what your rights are, what you need to do, and the steps involved in representing yourself or obtaining a lawyer.

You can ask a judge to appoint a lawyer for you if you’ve been denied legal aid, can’t afford a lawyer, and face a serious and complex criminal charge.

If you’re denied a lawyer through Legal Aid BC, in some cases you can ask a judge to postpone your case until the government agrees to give you a free lawyer through Legal Aid BC. This process is known as a “Rowbotham application.” If You Can’t Get Legal Aid for Your Criminal Trial (Legal Aid BC) explains how to make a Rowbotham application in Provincial or Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeal Online Help Guide (Justice Education Society) explains how to apply for a court-appointed lawyer (section 684 application) in the Court of Appeal.

If you’re a youth who has been charged with a crime, the Government of BC has a page on the Right to a Lawyer that has information on how lawyers can help protect your rights.

Helpful resources

  • Representing Yourself at a Criminal Trial (Legal Aid BC): This explains what happens when you (the accused person) want to plead not guilty to a summary offence. It guides a self-represented person through the basic steps in the court process both before and at a trial. It includes a flow chart telling you which Legal Aid BC resources would be helpful throughout the process from your criminal charge to your trial.
  • Defending Yourself Against a Criminal Charge (People’s Law School): This gives you information about the process if you’re defending yourself in a trial.
  • Criminal Process Overview (Justice Education Society): This explains how a criminal trial works and common terms used in court. The information relates to criminal trials in BC Supreme Courts and Provincial Courts.
  • How to Appeal Your Conviction (Legal Aid BC): This booklet explains how to ask the appeal court for a court-appointed lawyer.
  • LSLAP Manual: Criminal Law (PDF) (Law Students’ Legal Advice Program): This describes what happens in a trial. Look in the section “Pleading Not Guilty and Criminal Trials.”

Helpful services

  • Brydges Line  (Legal Aid BC): If you’re in custody, call to speak to a lawyer at any time. 
  • Legal Aid BC Call Centre: Call to find out if you qualify for legal aid.
  • Duty Counsel Lawyers for Criminal Matters (Legal Aid BC): Duty counsel are lawyers who can give you free brief advice before your trial. They are available at courthouses throughout the province. Call Legal Aid BC’s call centre or your local court registry to find out about duty counsel hours in your area.
  • Lawyer Referral Service (Access Pro Bono): This service offers a free, brief initial consultation with a lawyer to determine your legal needs. If you’d like further help from your lawyer, you can retain them at a rate you both agree to.
  • Find more services.