I’m fairly confident that avid readers of this blog and of course my hordes of fans (especially students, past and present 😉) will be utterly appalled at this next comment. It appears that some people actually dislike ‘defence lawyers’! Shockerooni……fancy the sheer temerity of having a thought process that leads you to that conclusion.
Actually, from an objectivity standpoint, in some ways I can see why. Perhaps an insight into the workings of us ‘defence lawyers’ would be beneficial.
‘Make sure your skin is as thick as an crocodile, lad’. Ah, the words of my late great mentor Mr Q back in the early 90s. Of course, I thought I knew what he meant but, being a smart-arsed gobby twenty-something year old I actually paid little cognisance. I knew it all. Naturally. But boy was I in for a rude awakening.
Over the years much of the abuse I have suffered has not, bizarrely, been from people ‘inside’ a courtroom. No, rather it has been on a night-out or other social occasion when the conversation has ‘leaned’ towards how I made a crust. Howls of derision were often heard by people simply deciding, based principally on prejudice more than anything else, that what I did was not to their liking. Indeed for those that are not an intrinsic part of the criminal justice system, they have, over the years, been consistently unable to fathom how I did what I did….or why.
‘How can you represent scum like that?’ ‘I mean he’s a rapist…have you no morals.?’ ‘Do you manage to sleep at night knowing you’re about to defend a criminal like that..?’ A very brief snapshot of the sort of guff that has been flung at me repeatedly for almost three decades. All it serves is to remind me of our innate prejudice as humans and our inability to stand back and look at matters objectively, rather than subjectively. Some people revel in their judgemental dislike and disdain for others – including, regularly, defence lawyers.
My students will recall how each year I tell them of the scandalous headline ‘Thief acquitted’ and how this is a classic and dangerous misnomer. Consider also above the comments about ‘…he’s a rapist’ BEFORE any trial. Extraordinary. One would like to think that that such comments are made only by those without the benefit of any education but, alas, no. Sometimes I have found myself on the receiving end of similar remarks about my profession from individuals in equally high-end positions and who should know better.
Generally speaking, whilst we do not practice the ‘cab rank rule’ as they do down south, if a case comes in to your practice you would generally be expected to take it on, subject to the normal rules of engagement. My view of any alleged offence is largely irrelevant. One would not expect a medical practitioner to refuse to operate on an individual upon whose views they disagree and yet the same does not appear true in the hapless and often maligned world of the defence lawyer. Our role, as part of the system in which we work, is adversarial in nature and where ultimately the presentation of evidence will determine the truth. Mercifully we don’t just all convene in the local ‘spoons over a few pints and parade ‘suspects’ at the bar in order that we determine their fate. Thankfully, it’s a little more sophisticated than that.
By no means could just ‘anyone’ do our job – absolutely not. It is a great skill and requires phenomenal traits and characteristics that go way beyond advocacy within a courtroom. Further, to suggest our cases do not affect us is also abject nonsense. It’s just that those of us who have done it for years and years become case-hardened by it all. But we are a resilient and professional bunch and, well, we just tend to ‘get on with it’.
I am perennially asked how I can defend an individual ‘knowing’ their guilty. How do I ‘know’ that? My job is to put to test the Prosecution’s assertions and allegations and vigorously at that. Clearly I could never put forward any positive, robust defence in cases where an admission of guilt has been made. In such a situation my advice to a client will always be to allow a plea of guilty to be tendered with the opportunity of a plea-in-mitigation.
But, there are occasions when clients maintain their innocence and, in the absence of blatant Crown evidence to the contrary such as CCTV or forensics, then my job is to act in their best interests and prepare thoroughly for trial.
Only by rigorous testing of the Crown evidence can justice be done and be seen to be done. Remember there are ostensibly two chief reasons for a criminal trial: firstly, to ensure a totally fair, transparent, full, public hearing of all lawfully obtained evidence and secondly to ensure that the actions and activities of the Crown do not exceed the parameters of their authority. I believe deeply and passionately about both.
My detestation for injustice means that I shall always pursue the maxim of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. I shall strenuously defend that principle forever.
To suggest anything else, is nothing more than a gratuitous insult and blight on our professionalism.
It’s not easy being me 😁
PS Following some remarkably quick feedback I will say more…….
If, following the trial where the Crown’s case has been fully and robustly tested and the accused is convicted, then I am satisfied that that is more than likely the correct result. If a proper defence is not correctly put together and the Crown case is not robustly tested then this would constitute the very opposite of what we stand for in our democracy – especially the maxim that an innocent person may be imprisoned. Better that a hundred guilty go free than one innocent be jailed. For those that may disagree – I suspect you are not that one person.