How Do Defence Lawyers Sleep at Night?
My name is Rowan King, and I am a defence lawyer. I am often called upon to help people who are involved in criminal law matters. Many people question how I can morally or ethically do my job and I think this is important to address. As this article will show, thinking a defence lawyer can’t have a conscience is a misunderstanding of the Law and the part we play in upholding it. In my work I do not mind who the client is or what it is alleged they have done, I put those things aside and focus specifically on the burden of proof and the evidence in each and every case. As such, I have been involved in some of the highest profile cases in Queensland.
Can you have a conscience as a defence lawyer?
When I tell people what I do for a living, I am often asked, “how do you sleep at night knowing you help bad people?”
In response, I often ask questions such as:
- what if they are not “bad” but they just made a horrible mistake?
- how can the government prosecute someone I know to be innocent?
- how can I sleep at night if my client is wrongly convicted?
The next logical question I am often asked is, “how do you represent someone you know is guilty?”
The issue with this question is that it assumes the lawyer ‘knows’ the defendant is guilty, and also that a guilty person deserves any sentence they receive. Sometimes a lawyer may suspect a client is guilty, but the law says that lawyers must:
- avoid personal bias
- follow all lawful, proper and competent instructions
- act in the best interests of a client.
Further, if the client admits guilt, they still require a Defence Lawyer to ensure the sentence received is just for the crime committed. It is a human right to a fair trial and due process, even when the evidence may appear to be ‘overwhelming’.
John Grisham has some great quotes on justice. He said this in one of his legal thrillers:
“Do we really want fair trials? No … We want justice and quickly. And Justice is whatever we deem it to be on a case-by-case basis”.
This presumption of “innocence” is easy to stomach when we speak of victimless crimes, such as possession of a small amount of cannabis or failing to vote in an election. However, it is something that is more difficult to stomach when a person has sustained a significant injury, acquired long-term deformity from the alleged offending, or, even worse if someone has died.
I passionately defend my clients in any court or tribunal in Queensland. At times, I have been required to fearlessly take on “unpopular” cases. I am tasked to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and to ensure justice for those who feel crushed, helpless and hopeless in our legal system. I love my job and my role in the administration of justice.