The Importance of Defence Solicitors in the Criminal Justice System
Steel and Shamash
It is not uncommon for a criminal law solicitor to be asked how their conscience allows them to defend criminals or those charged with committing a criminal offence. In particular, people don’t always understand how legal professionals are able to help someone who, in some cases, may have committed a serious crime.
First of all, without criminal solicitors and a system for legal representation of the accused, there would be no criminal justice system, or at the very least an unjust one. For justice to be done, it is vital that defendants have the right to legal advice and assistance. Perhaps obviously, the main reason is that not everyone who faces criminal charges is guilty. If those charged of crimes were not entitled to sufficient legal counsel there would be many more innocent people behind bars. It is easy to presume guilt and if someone charged of a crime did not receive legal advice then a jury may struggle to understand their side of events and may quickly, therefore, dismiss any defence. However, it is not just those whose innocence or guilt is in question that defence solicitors advise; they are also required to represent those who have pleaded guilty. In such scenarios, lawyers still need to present a case and this can have a significant impact on the specifics of the accused’s sentence.
Everyone suspected of a crime is entitled to legal counsel; advice and assistance from a lawyer. This entitlement begins as soon as someone is arrested and before they can be charged. The suspect is not required to answer any questions until they have received such counsel. They may decide to hire their own solicitor or they can use one provided by the state. They also have the right to legal assistance for the duration of their case; through an entire investigation, up to and including a court case should there be one.
A defence solicitor has a number of responsibilities. They gather information around the crime, or alleged crime, looking for anything that could assist their client’s case. This will include interviewing any witnesses. In addition, legal advice is a big part of the job, from the stages prior to their client’s police interviews through to their court appearance, where there is one. Advising a client can, in some instances, involve advising them to plead guilty. There will be times when a suspect wishes to plead innocent but their solicitor knows the evidence is stacked against them and seeking a lesser sentence will be easier should guilt be admitted. Where a suspect is involved in a court case they will be represented in court by a barrister, not by their solicitor, but the solicitor will still be involved in advising their client and preparing the case for the barrister.
While some may not understand the mind-set of a criminal law solicitor, considering the actions of those they may have to deal with, they have to remain professional at all times. It is their job and they cannot afford to have personal opinions of their clients. Fundamentally, there are two types of cases that a criminal solicitor will deal with; where they represent someone whose innocence or guilt is in question and where they represent someone who has admitted guilt.
When representing someone who has been accused of a crime but denies it, a solicitor will be gathering the evidence to make a case for their client’s innocence. From a solicitor’s point of view they are doing something valuable; attempting to achieve justice for someone who may be innocent.
It can be more difficult on a personal level when representing someone who has admitted guilt, especially where it is in relation to a serious crime. Here, rather than attempting to prove innocence, a lawyer is attempting to reduce the sentence as much as possible. Depending on the severity of the crime they may be trying to avoid a custodial sentence or reduce it.
Where a solicitor is defending someone they believe to be innocent it is easy from a psychological point of view. They believe they are trying to seek justice on behalf of their client. Representing someone who has pleaded guilty of a serious crime is more challenging. It does, though, become easier with experience. Solicitors have to remain professional and perform their duties to the best of their abilities. To some it may seem cold, but it is not only a job, it is a fundamental cog in the judicial system and to ensure that every individual receives their rightful access to a fair trial, defence solicitors must keep personal feelings out of the equation. They cannot become too emotionally attached or prejudiced. There are inevitably times when this is challenging but it is all part of the job.