Say someone represents himself in court and wins. There were no lawyers hired but the win costed him days of legal research (instead of working in his normal profession, paid per hour of factual work), paperwork/stationery, postal fees, petrol, parking fees, court application fees etc.

Do courts normally award those costs on application? Say they are lower than if a lawyer was hired.

Jurisdiction: any common law country.

2 Answers 2


That can't be answered for "any common law country". Practices vary widely between such countries. Also, in most of them, awards of costs are not matters of common law but are authorized by specific statute, when they are authorized. That means that in a given jurisdiction, the answer will be different for different torts or causes of action. In the US, many consumer protection statutes authorize awards of costs, while older torts may not, depending on the state.

What is fairly common though, is that even when authorized, such awards are not usually mandated but are something that the court may award or not as it sees fit, or as it thinks just. Also in some cases such awards really do represent the full costs of bringing suit, in others only a fraction of those costs. In the US, the terminology is often "full costs" or "actual costs" as opposed to "reasonable costs" or "reasonable attorney's fees".

The statutes authorizing such cots often do not make special provision for pro se litigants -- they get the same awards, or lack of awards, that those with lawyers get.

  • 1
    I agree that statutes vary enormously, but I would be surprised if any legal code (written by lawyers) gave the same value to a layman's time as to a lawyer's. In England and Wales, for example, the costs office cannot allow more than £19 an hour to a litigant in person unless actual financial loss is shown, while a lawyer's time is £200 an hour as a reasonable minimum. Jan 12, 2019 at 18:22

In New Zealand, a successful litigant in person is entitled to recover disbursements but not costs. This rule can be traced back many centuries to passages in Sir Edward Coke’s The Second Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (E and R Brooke, London, 1797). At page 288 he said:

Here is expresse mention made but of the costs of his writ, but it extendeth to all the legall cost of the suit, but not to the costs and expences of his travell and losse of time, and therefore costages commeth of the verb conster, and that againe of the verb constare, for these costages must constare to the court to be legall costs and expences.

In Lincoln v Police Mr Lincoln, self-represented computer engineer who won the case, claimed 104 hours of his time spent on legal research and court proceedings at his usual rate $90 per hour.

The court held:

There is no rule permitting costs to be claimed by a lay litigant for his or her work in preparing for and presenting their case. This is consistent with the long-standing practice not to award costs to a litigant in person... ...because it is a rule of practice rather than a rule of law not to award costs to a litigant in person, there may be exceptions. Matters of general public importance where there is no self-interest were suggested as possible exceptions.

That particular case lacked general public importance, so no exception was applied. But:

I acknowledge the assistance that Mr Lincoln provided to the court. Mr Lincoln demonstrated considerable knowledge of firearms and he provided to the Court very useful research about firearms and the meaning of “military pattern” in particular. I consider that he can be treated as an expert in this respect. Expenses paid to experts can be recovered as a disbursement ... it might be an appropriate exercise of the general discretion to award costs on this basis ... I would not envisage that the amount recoverable would be the full 104 hours Mr Lincoln has incurred because a good deal of that is likely to relate to legal research and preparation.

So, self-litigant who also acts as an expert can recover costs for the corresponding portion of his time.

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