Legal Aid

Crime doesn't pay- the life of a duty solicitor

PUBLISHED April 19, 2013

 Welcome to the first entry to the blog of a criminal defence solicitor working in London. Why write it and more importantly perhaps, why read it? Well, starting with the second part, I hope it gives you an insight into how your criminal justice system works and why it is important you have effective defence as well as prosecution.

Why write it? I want people to understand what defence lawyers do and why it is important we exist and can do our jobs properly. And hopefully entertain you a little bit too? If you read the papers last week, you would think I am sitting behind my desk merrily milking the tax payer cash cow, about to drive home to my mansion in my Porsche. The reality is not quite the same and in my 12 years of criminal defence, I've not come across anyone who is doing this.

Nevertheless all too often I have to defend my job of defending. Imagine you are sitting in the pub on a Friday night, perhaps a cheeky glass of wine in hand. You are meeting friends and friends of friends. The conversation turns to what everyone does for a living? This is where it gets interesting it seems. ?How can you do it? What if you know someone is guilty, how do you represent them? Why do you do it? How do you sleep at night?' I've never heard a teacher, plumber or librarian ever have to defend their choice of career but what we do is a fundamental part of an effective system of justice. But the new proposals for criminal legal aid threaten to tear apart access to justice for all. Good defence lawyers will be left to those who can pay privately. And rest assured, if one of my friends ever got arrested, I'd soon be getting a call! That is why I think it's important you get a glimpse behind the scenes.

So let me begin with a story one of my criminal solicitor friends told me from her weekend. A client she has represented for nearly a decade had been arrested. He has significant mental health problems, drink and drug dependencies. He kicked off endlessly at the police station and then at court. So raucous were his shouts from the cells, two of the court rooms had to shut due to the noise. She was dispatched to represent him and the jailors, with worried glances, let her in to the cells to see him. He was shouting and banging on the door? until he saw her. He stopped. She told him to sit down and behave. He did. The years of work she had put in representing him resulted in a trust and respect the officers and court staff did not have with him. Matters progressed smoothly and the court could start sitting again. He was calm enough to see the Psychiatric team and start getting the help he needed, much to everyone's benefit. Kind of important he got to choose the solicitor he wanted to represent him wasn't it? And all this fun can be had on a Saturday morning too! Who wouldn't want to do this job?!