Saturday, April 02, 2005

Solicitors and Policemen

In the always interesting The Policeman's Blog
Copperfield has some very cynical and jaded things to say about defence solicitors. The comments that he has received are split between some who sound like police officers who have no time at all for the defence brief, and those who think them a vital safeguard. The original post accuses some lawyers of a variety of unprofessional conduct that drifts perilously close to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and may even cross that line. He makes the usual gibe about solicitors being paid for their work, unlike the rest of us who work for the love of it.

I did not recognise any of these characters, although to be fair, I am not in the police station when suspects are being interviewed. Most of the regular defence solicitors at my court are hard working, professional, and dedicated to the interests of their clients. Many of them are badly paid too, and a young lawyer with one year's experience after six years' training probably earns a good deal less than the custody sergeant he is dealing with. Of course there are some poor advocates, just as there are lazy and incompetent policemen.

Some police officers as well as some members of the public for that matter, see something disreputable in defending people accused of crimes that are sometimes very nasty indeed. But even nasty people are entitled to have their case put as well as it can be. Don't forget that a criminal charge pits the mighty resources of the state against one individual. Even the most obnoxious thug should be properly represented. Another thing that many people forget is that a good solicitor will always advise his client to plead guilty if the evidence looks strong, and thereby receive the maximum sentence discount. Much difficulty can arise in the police station if the solicitor thinks that his client has been over-charged; in those circumstances the only option is to plead not guilty and try to sort it out from there. That is why the charging decision has now been removed from the police and given to the CPS who will have a presence in police stations or on a 24/7 helpline.

The old sweats in the police often wax nostalgic for the good old days pre-PACE, but let's not forget that PACE was introduced by the Thatcher government (no friend of the criminal classes) in response to a series of miscarriages of justice caused by, shall we say, over-enthusiastic policing that included blatant rigging of evidence.
There was an era of 'noble cause corruption' when a minority of police officers were so incensed at a particular crime that they would give the evidence a helping hand here and there. Injustice was sometimes the result.

Fat cat lawyers exist, but not in the field of criminal legal aid. My daughter and son-in-law are solicitors, but they work in company and commercial law where the rewards are potentially very high indeed. Plenty of smaller High Street practices that deal with a mixture of work are really struggling, and such firms will be a rarity in a decade or so.

Just one point, I am assuming that the April 1st posting date does not indicate that Copperfield is on a wind-up. Even if he is, my comments above are still valid.

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