First day in court

Duty lawyers give free legal help to people who have been charged with an offence and don’t have a lawyer.

Download pamphlets about duty lawyers in other languages

Who can get a duty lawyer?

Anyone who does not have their own lawyer can use a duty lawyer’s service for free.

If you face a minor charge and decide to plead guilty you probably won’t need another lawyer. If you face serious charges the duty lawyer will deal with the immediate issues at the court, but you will need your own lawyer for the next steps.

A duty lawyer can:

  • explain to you what offence you are charged with and how serious it is
  • tell you if you might have a defence to the charge
  • tell you about the usual range of sentences the courts give for the charge
  • explain what happens after you plead guilty or not guilty
  • enter a guilty plea if that’s what you want
  • tell the judge about your personal circumstances and your point of view about the offence (a plea in mitigation) if you are pleading guilty to a minor charge
  • ask for your case to be put off (remanded) so that you can get more advice or information
  • apply for bail for you in some cases
  • help you apply for legal aid if you have to come back to court.

What can’t a duty lawyer do for you?

The duty lawyer usually can’t represent you after the first day of your case.

 If you have to come back to court and cannot afford a lawyer, they will help you complete a legal aid application form.

Getting a duty lawyer

A duty lawyer can be found at the District Court.

If you can’t find the duty lawyer, there may be notices, posters or pamphlets at the courts telling you where to find them. You can also ask the court staff or court volunteers for help. If the police take you to court, the duty lawyer will see you in the cells.

Brochures in other languages

Duty lawyer helping you at court for free - Māori [PDF, 540 KB]

Duty lawyer helping you at court for free - Chinese [PDF, 604 KB]

Duty lawyer helping you at court for free - Samoan [PDF, 537 KB]

Duty lawyer helping you at court for free - Tongan [PDF, 538 KB]

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