Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Fool For a Client

There is an old lawyers' saying that a man who represents himself will have a fool for a client. Other than in the most simple cases most magistrates and court clerks find that unrepresented defendants can be a right royal pain in the whatsit. For one thing, the procedure takes at least twice as long without a lawyer. In a simple, let's say Driving Without Due Care, trial the Legal Aid criteria are unlikely to be fulfilled as there is no danger of prison, but there is nevertheless a trial to run and witnesses to deal with. Lay people tend to introduce vast amounts of irrelevant material, and it is hard for them to appreciate that cross-examination involves questioning the other side's witness, not making your own dramatic statement of your defence case. Of course we are patient, and clerk and chairman will try to steer matters along, but we have to be careful not to run his defence for him. I have a line of reassuring patter for these occasions: ("Of course you are not a lawyer, Mr. Smith, and nobody expects you to be one. But there are a few rules that we have to insist upon......").

Worse than Legal Aid Refused is the bloke with a bit of previous who has a germ of wit buried deep in his brain, and who decides, either through a gross over-estimate of his own legal prowess or sheer cussedness (that is sometimes brought on by the solicitor's refusal to supply him with cigarettes or money) to sack his brief and go it alone. This can have real consequences sometimes. Committal to the Crown Court usually takes place under Section 6(2) whereby the defence accepts that there is a case to answer and a so-called paper committal takes place.This takes about five minutes, but can only happen when the defendant is represented, so if he decides to fly solo at the point of committal everything grinds to a halt and matters are put off for a 6(1) committal, in which the evidence is read through and the magistrates are technically sitting as examining justices. Of course Mr. Unrepresented has no idea what is going on, and we end up delaying his committal by many weeks and wasting a whole day on the eventual hearing. He gains nothing.

So when this happened a few months ago (twice in one day, for heaven's sake) there was a sharp intake of breath on the bench, and the clerk's shoulders slumped visibly. I looked at the defendant, safe behind the armoured glass dock screen, and he said: "It's no good, I ain't changing me mind on this one". I had him returned to the cells on the grounds that we had to make some legal arrangements, and once he was safely out of the way I looked firmly at his counsel. "Miss Watkins" I said. "Your client appears to have dispensed with your services". "Yes, sir. I shall withdraw of course". "Miss Watkins. It is only a few minutes before the court takes a lunch break. This case cannot possibly come back before then. We will resume the sitting at 2 p.m. If you were able to have a word with the gentleman in the meantime, just to make sure that he understands all of the implications of his decision, we would be most grateful". Was that a hint of a wink from the bench? You may well think that. I could not possibly comment.

2 p.m. "Miss Watkins?" "Sir, I am pleased to say that I have had a word with my client and he wishes me to represent him and for committal to take place today".

Committal took place - in custody. Client returned down the stairs. "Thank you Miss Watkins. We are most grateful for the efforts that you have made. You have been a great help to the court and to your client." "Thank you sir".

A first class professional job, ending with another almost imperceptible judicial wink. Forgive me. She's about the same age as my daughter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.