To say that the Laura Babcock murder trial is unusual would be an understatement.
A grieving father on the witness stand answering questions about the circumstances that relate to his 23-year-old daughter’s murder is a difficult scene to watch, but it’s made that much more disturbing when you take into account who’s asking the questions.
WATCH: Millard ordered purchase of incinerator days before Babcock vanished: Forensic officer
Dellen Millard is charged with the death of Laura Babcock. He is also acting as his own lawyer in court. A rare move for someone charged with murder.
“Self-representation is something that is happening more and more in our courts. In a nutshell people are coming to court for various reasons,” explains Trevor Farrow of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.
WATCH: Cross examination continues at the Laura Babcock murder trial
“It is often the case that people just cannot afford a lawyer or they’ve had a lawyer and they’ve run out of money,” says Farrow.
Other reasons contributing to the trend of self-representation include distance from legal help, and the feeling that the defendant is the best person to defend himself or herself before a judge or jury.
The National Self-Represented Litigants Project estimates that 50 per cent of those appearing in family court and 30 per cent of those appearing in civil and appeal courts are without a lawyer.
WATCH: Testimony continues at Laura Babcock murder trial
However, in a murder trial, like the Babcock case, it is unique.
“It is typically not in an individual’s best interest to come to court without a lawyer. The legal system is complicated. It was built around judges and lawyers and complex legal principles and evidency principles. It is not built for the lay person,” according to Trevor Farrow.
He stresses that the legal system is tough for lawyers, which means it is even more complex for those who did not study law.
In the case of the Laura Babcock murder trial, a big question that looms is whether Dellen Millard will take the stand. It is his right and it is his choice.
What might that look like?
Farrow says, “when they’re giving their own evidence they sit in the evidence box under oath and they tell their own story. They’re not asked by a lawyer. They’re giving their own evidence.”
However, Farrow emphasizes that this does not work very well. Representing one’s self in court is complex and time consuming.
It is also a stress on the judge, whose job it is to manage the court process and ensure it is fair. The judge relies on the parties and their lawyers to run the case. If one side is struggling, it is the judge who must intervene.
Finally, Farrow says it comes down to the severity of the charges and what the defendant stands to lose.
“Typically a murder case, where the jeopardy is significant jail time, you would rarely have someone show up on their own at this stage of the game and representing themselves in a complex murder trial.”
The bottom line is, without legal training, Dellen Millard is facing an uphill battle.
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