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Implied criticism of defence lawyers unacceptable

29 November 2017

The right to a lawyer is a fundamental part of our justice system and any criticism of lawyers for defending people charged with heinous crimes is not acceptable, the New Zealand Law Society says.

“The current comments on Green MP Golriz Ghahraman appear to be over her alleged failure to state that she had both defended and prosecuted people charged with war crimes,” Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.

“Some coverage has, however, also seemed to imply that there is something wrong in a lawyer acting for a person who is being tried for serious crimes.

“It is natural that people might be angry and distressed by such cases and the perpetrators, but it is totally wrong to identify the lawyer with the client’s actions.”

Defence lawyer and convenor of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, Steve Bonnar QC, says there is often misunderstanding of the role of a lawyer.

“Our law requires lawyers to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice in New Zealand. The general rule is that lawyers must be available to act for the public and must not, without good cause, refuse to accept instructions from any client or prospective client for services within that lawyer’s fields of practice.

“Therefore, often a lawyer does not have a choice as to what cases to accept. The personal attributes of the prospective client and the merits of the matter upon which the lawyer is consulted are not considered good cause for refusing to accept instructions.”

Mr Bonnar says the rules of Conduct and Client Care which bind all lawyers say that as far as possible, the defence lawyer must protect the client from being convicted.

“The defence lawyer is required to put the prosecution to proof in obtaining a conviction, regardless of any personal belief or opinion of the lawyer as to the client’s guilt or innocence. It is not the role of the lawyer to determine a client’s guilt or innocence – that is the role of the Tribunal, Judge or jury hearing the case,” he says.

“New Zealand is fortunate to have a strong and dedicated community of lawyers who are available to defend anyone, no matter what they are accused of. It would be of great concern if the essential job they do came under attack.”

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Last updated on the 29th November 2017