Empowering Self-Representation: Laws, Principles And Inspiring Precedents



  1. Introduction 
  2. Laws Relating To Self Representation
  3. Legal Principles And Precedents
  4. Sanyas Kumar Behera: Fighting For Disabled Children’s Rights
  5. Baghamber Pattnaik: Breaking The Caste Divide
  6. Conclusion 


There’s often confusion between the terms lawyer, non-lawyer, and advocate. A lawyer is knowledgeable about the law, while an advocate can be a lawyer registered with a state bar council under the Advocates Act, 1961. In India, individuals can represent themselves in court, subject to the court’s approval. If someone lacks the means or is confined, the state provides a lawyer to represent them. Notably, even law graduates cannot represent others in court unless they’re registered advocates with the Bar Council of India.

Laws Relating To Self Representation 

Civil Procedure Code, 1908:  Order III Rule 1 of the CPC stipulates that parties can appear, apply, or act in court either personally, through a recognized agent, or via a pleader acting on their behalf, unless otherwise specified by law. However, the court may require personal appearance if directed.

Advocates Act, 1961: Section 32 of the Advocates Act, 1961 grants courts, authorities, or individuals the authority to allow non-enrolled advocates to represent in specific cases. This provision underscores that while non-enrolled advocates can represent, the decision ultimately rests with the court or relevant authority.

The Supreme Court Rules, 2013: The Supreme Court Rules, 2013 under Order IV 1(a), stipulate that advocates enrolled with State Bar Councils under the Advocates Act, 1961, can appear before the court. Those with less than one year of enrollment can request procedural matters but not participate in substantive hearings. However, the court can permit any person to address it in specific cases.

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This legislation makes it evident that while experienced advocates can represent, non-lawyers can also address the court based on the Supreme Court’s discretion. Judicial precedents further support this, showcasing instances where non-lawyers were allowed to represent litigants in certain circumstances.

Legal Principles And Precedents

In the case of Goa Antibiotics & Pharmaceuticals Limited v. R.K. Chawla and Anr. (2016), the Supreme Court clarified that any natural person who is not an advocate can personally appear and argue their own case. However, they are restricted from authorising a power of attorney to someone other than an enrolled advocate to represent them in court. This interpretation aligns with the Advocates Act, 1961, and ensures compliance with its provisions.

Section 32 of the Advocates Act grants courts the discretion to permit non-enrolled individuals to appear and argue in specific cases. While this section acknowledges the right of non-lawyers to represent litigants, the decision ultimately rests with the court’s discretion, emphasising the importance of judicial oversight.

In the mentioned case, Mr. Vishnu Kerikar sought permission for representation by a non-lawyer, highlighting the court’s role in evaluating such requests under Section 32. The distinction lies in the inherent right of advocates to appear versus the discretionary power of the court to allow non-lawyers representation.

The Supreme Court emphasised that power of attorney holders cannot appear in court on behalf of others unless authorised by the court under Section 32. However, they can perform other legal acts like signing agreements, unless expressly prohibited by law.

This judgement underscores that non-lawyers can represent litigants with court permission, emphasising the court’s duty to assess each case’s circumstances and rationale for non-lawyer representation. The decision to permit such representation is not a delegated right but a judicial discretion guided by the unique aspects of each case and litigant.

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Sanyas Kumar Behera: Fighting For Disabled Children’s Rights

In 2023, Sanyas Kumar Behera, a 28-year-old man who is 100% blind, represented himself in a case to secure the rights of hundreds of disabled children in Odisha. Behera took on a powerful government official who had diverted funds meant for a school for special needs children. Despite having no legal experience, Behera fought the case himself as he could not find a lawyer who understood the nuances of his case. Through his self-representation, Behera was able to expose the corruption and ensure the rights of the disabled children were protected.

Baghamber Pattnaik: Breaking The Caste Divide

In the early 2000s, Baghamber Pattnaik, a 61-year-old teacher, fought his own case to end an age-old caste practice in Odisha. The local barber community was being forced to wash the feet of upper caste Brahmins during weddings and provide other services. When the authorities refused to intervene, Pattnaik joined the barbers’ protest and decided to take the case to court himself. He was even jailed for over 100 days for his activism, but continued to fight the case pro se. Pattnaik’s self-representation ultimately led to the abolition of the discriminatory practice.



In conclusion, a non-lawyer representation in court for a litigant is contingent upon the specific permission granted by the concerned court. As established in the case of Mr. Vishnu Kerikar, various factors such as background, relationship, reasons for engaging a private individual’s services, and other relevant circumstances are considered before deciding to grant or deny such permission.

It’s important to understand that while non-lawyers can potentially represent someone in court, their participation in proceedings hinges entirely on the discretion of the respective court where the case is filed.

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