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Solicitors and Barristers - could you defend someone you knew to be guilty?

(80 Posts)
rainbowqueen Fri 02-May-14 19:17:18

Especially wrt a sex crime?

Obviously if they weren't defended they wouldn't be able to be prosecuted and someone's got to do the job. But could you do it? Could you sign up to the we believe you campaign one day and accuse a victim of lying the next?
//rage
//also want to understand

CrimeaRiver Fri 02-May-14 19:20:32

No. This is why I chose the civil law route and not the criminal law. Some people are very good at separating their professional personality from their 'at home' personality. I'm not one of them, no matter what job I've had.

AuntieStella Fri 02-May-14 19:20:49

I thought that if you know someone to be guilty, all they can do is present mitigation.

If the person insists they are innocent, the job is to present the case as well as they can (no matter how flaky, improbable or how little they believe in it themselves).

BigPawsBrown Fri 02-May-14 19:21:48

For the millionth time, a lawyer CANNOT defend someone they know to be guilty. They cannot enter a not guilty plea or would be misleading the court.

Nyborg Fri 02-May-14 19:22:06

The barrister's obligation to his/her client's best interests is matched by his/her responsibility as an officer of the Court. Broadly speaking, that means that if the accused tells the barrister that s/he did it, they can't act for them if they refuse to plead guilty. The barrister withdraws from the case but remains under a duty of confidentiality.

It's not the barrister's place to decide of his/her own volition whether the client is guilty. That's for the jury, and it's the barrister's responsibility to explain the client's position to the jury as well as it can be explained.

Nyborg Fri 02-May-14 19:22:52

We do seem to get this question on MN approximately ten times a week, BigPaws.

SirChenjin Fri 02-May-14 19:25:37

I understand that you can't defend someone you know is guilty - but even the best lawyers must sometimes think "oh for the love of God" when presented with the defence.

rainbowqueen Fri 02-May-14 19:44:47

When someone builds a career defending sex offendors they cannot possibly believe them all to be innocent.

Nyborg Fri 02-May-14 19:47:00

Again - "It's not the barrister's place to decide of his/her own volition whether the client is guilty. That's for the jury"

norkmonster Fri 02-May-14 19:48:55

Belief and knowledge are two very different beasts. Just because I believe someone is guilty does not mean I can't (or won't) defend them. Otherwise why bother having a trial system at all? Leave it up to a single barrister / solicitor's belief, without any testing of the evidence? No thanks, not the justice system I want to live under.

SirChenjin Fri 02-May-14 19:49:35

Oh come on....barristers are capable of thinking for themselves. They have will have their own opinions.

AuntieStella Fri 02-May-14 19:50:30

Their belief is irrelevant. Their job is to skew the est possible presentation of what th defendant tells them.

As CrimeaRiver says, this is not a line of work for you if you cannot (or do not want to) keep your personal feelings OU of it.

And of course, if a person cannot secure representation, it is possible (as A Cameron is arguing this week) that the case against them has to be dismissed on the grounds a fair trial cannot happen.

AuntieStella Fri 02-May-14 19:51:54

Mangled sentence: should read "Their job is to make the best possible presentation..."

rainbowqueen Fri 02-May-14 19:51:58

Its not necessarily about deciding on guilt - it's about questioning a witness/victim's account of an assault, essentially disbelieving her, and accusing her of being a liar.

SirChenjin Fri 02-May-14 19:53:42

My post was for Nyborg btw.

Yes of course, the evidence must be tested - but I'm curious as to how lawyers are able to defend people whose defences are patently stretching the truth.

rainbowqueen Fri 02-May-14 19:57:52

Can we come at this question from a different pov. Are you comfortable with the way victims in sex offence trials are often questioned aggressively, with little or no regard for their status as a victim - they are instead merely seen as a witness to an offence.

This puts women off from reporting sexual assault.

AreYouFeelingLucky Fri 02-May-14 20:01:17

That's the legal system for you. If two people say different things, one is lying. Both sides question the other and imply guilt. It's the only way that justice can be done.

PortofinoRevisited Fri 02-May-14 20:05:34

Of course - it is the reason so many of these crimes don't lead to a guilty verdict.

CrimeaRiver Fri 02-May-14 20:30:45

In answer to your reposing of the question, you are losing sight of the whole picture.

There is no denying that some victims are questioned extremely strenuously. But if you are an innocent accused, that aggressive questioning probably isn't aggressive bough. You are talking about taking someone's freedom away.

You would only think the way you are thinking if you have already decided the accused is guilty and that the trial is a formality leading up to a guilty verdict.

Btw I knew what you meant by your first question. A more comprehensive answer for me is that my nerves couldn't handle it, because I fundamentally believe in the system.

SirChenjin Fri 02-May-14 20:47:16

Equally there's no doubt that there are some lawyers whose 'strenuous questionning' leads to guilty people walking free. Money often buys you that type of lawyer....

babybarrister Fri 02-May-14 22:30:09

Yawn ....so you would rather the lawyer decided on guilt than the jury ?

Do you also ask doctors whether they are prepared to treat people who have actually been convicted of sex crimes ?

babybarrister Fri 02-May-14 22:32:20

Ps I don't actually do crime but I thought that the best answer is that of course it is not as much as fun as prosecuting someone you know to be innocent!

SirChenjin Fri 02-May-14 22:44:01

Explain what you mean by as much as fun as prosecuting someone you know to be innocent?

prh47bridge Sat 03-May-14 01:47:32

I think Babybarrister was being facetious. But there may well be cases where the prosecuting lawyer believes the defendant is probably innocent. The same rules apply. It is not the lawyer's role to decide guilt or innocence. They must simply present the evidence in the best way possible and leave it up to the jury. In the unlikely event that the prosecutor knows for certain that the defendant is innocent they cannot prosecute the case.

In the same way it is not the job of the CPS to judge whether or not a suspect is guilty. The only question they consider is whether or not the evidence is strong enough to give a reasonable chance of getting a conviction.

Strictly speaking, even the courts don't judge whether or not the defendant is factually guilty of the crime. They judge whether or not the prosecution has reached the required standard of proof. Every year some guilty defendants walk free and some innocent defendants are convicted.

Of course - it is the reason so many of these crimes don't lead to a guilty verdict.

If you mean that the aggressive questioning of witnesses in cases involving sexual offences results in juries acquitting defendants I have to disagree. The proportion of prosecutions resulting in convictions is over 50% and higher than most other major crimes.

SirChenjin Sat 03-May-14 08:57:32

I do hope she was just being facetious, because it wasn't amusing in the slightest.

I'm aware that it's not the role of the lawyer to determine guilt/innocence as I said in my earlier posts, but every defence lawyer must have, at some point in their careers, raised an eyebrow or two at the defence they are presented with.

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