The Role of a Criminal Defence Lawyer

criminal defence lawyer

Criminal lawyers play a vital role within the Australian justice system. They are there to ensure that their client is treated fairly under the law and that they get the opportunity to present evidence in their defence and to tell their side of the story.

Being a criminal defence lawyer can be an extremely rewarding job, but it can also be very challenging. Lawyers are required to represent people from all backgrounds and in all situations, and to try to find a just outcome for all of them. Sometimes, they will need to represent someone who they know to be guilty. The role of the lawyer is not to judge; it is to uphold the standards of law and the criminal justice system.

Ethical obligations of criminal defence lawyers

  • Lawyers must act in the best interest of their clients in any matter which the lawyer represents the client.
  • Lawyers must be honest and courteous in all dealings, in the course of working as a lawyer.
  • Lawyers must deliver legal services competently, diligently and as promptly as reasonably possible.
  • Lawyers must avoid any compromise to their dignity and professional independence
  • Lawyers must comply with the Solicitors’ conduct rules and the law.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

One of the key tenets of the justice system is that an innocent person should never go to gaol for a crime. In fact, it is preferred that a guilty person be let free than someone who didn’t do it be gaoled.

This is where the principle of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ comes from. The prosecution needs to prove that the person accused of the crime committed it, without any room for doubt or the possibility of another explanation. Until this is achieved, the accused person is presumed innocent. This is regardless of whether there is a mountain of evidence or a confession; the accused person is always given the benefit of the doubt.

This also means that an accused person never needs to prove that they are innocent. They are already considered to be innocent; their role, and the role of their criminal defence lawyer, is to present evidence that provides the reasonable doubt required to prevent the prosecution proving them guilty.

Ensuring that the justice system works for everyone

Criminal defence lawyers defend people from all walks of life: from the most socio-economically disadvantaged, to the rich and famous. The justice system is designed to work for people no matter their background and circumstances, and in theory these factors should play no role in the likelihood of a person being found guilty of a crime.

However, the real world doesn’t always operate this way. We know that some groups of people – including Indigenous Australians, immigrants, and disadvantaged people – have higher incarceration rates than other groups. We also know that some people are given longer and harsher penalties for crimes.

Criminal defence lawyers have a role in fixing this inequality and working within the system to ensure that everyone – regardless of race, religion, nationality, background and more – receives the same fair treatment under the law. They can push back against any ingrained prejudices of the state and prevent innocent people from being wrongfully punished for crimes.

Defending guilty people

Lawyers are not there to judge their clients. All criminal defence lawyers will work with guilty people during their careers. Their role is not to condemn the person who has committed a crime, but to defend them to the best of their ability to ensure that the result is in the interests of justice.

Many people struggle to understand how a criminal defence lawyer could represent a guilty person, especially someone charged with a violent crime. However, it is vital that lawyers do this important work to make sure that the justice system continues to operate and that the worst outcome – an innocent person being gaoled – doesn’t happen.

When a client does confess guilt to their lawyer, lawyers have several options. They can recommend that the client puts in a guilty plea, and work to make sure their sentence is fair and equitable. If the client will not plead guilty, and there is enough time for the client to find a different lawyer, the lawyer can cease representing them. The lawyer cannot put a case forward on the basis that it was someone else who committed the offence if they know their client is guilty. They also cannot allow their client to give evidence that denies their guilt. The lawyer can only cross examine the police evidence and provide reasonable doubt where possible.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offence, our expert team is here to help.

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