Warning – This posting contains inaccurate comment, derogatory statements and outright lies.
Years ago, robbers would attend the Old Bailey wearing suits, and they still do, but too often now they masquerade as defence lawyers. Quite often suspects make it clear they want to give their account in a police interview, but once they have spoken to their legal representatives they are almost without exception advised to make no comment The legal advisers hide behind the caveat that they don’t want their clients to incriminate themselves, which roughly translated means they don’t want their client to tell the truth. If they tell the truth, this negates their opportunity for a trial, stopping lawyers from earning a shed load of money. There’s no reason not to give an account in police interview. Interviews are all video-taped anyway. If there is an aggressor in the interview room it is either the suspect or the lawyer or both. A ridiculous defence at public expense …courts have become so obsessive in their desire to ensure a defendant has a fair trial. Nobody doubts that principle but the need (sic) to be fair to victims, their families, witnesses
Right that’s the inaccurate, derogatory and untruthful comments over.
The words above were reported in an article in the Daily Mail where they interviewed DI Bob Campany after the conviction of Stuart Crawford. You can read the article here (this is probably the one and only time I link to the Daily Mail) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2045791/Top-officer-Bob-Campany-compares-lawyers-robbers.html#ixzz1a2aN9yYf
The general sentiment of what he said comes as no surprise to me, I have had similar things said to me ever since I started in criminal law. The only thing he missed out was how we as criminal lawyers slept soundly at night.
It is commonly believed that criminal lawyers tell lies on behalf of our clients, make up defences for our clients, enjoy upsetting victims and are solely responsible for putting rapists, paedophiles and axe murderers on the street. It’s also a common belief that we are all as rich as Croesus, drive round in flash cars and are totally devoid of any shred of decency or morality.
The public may be forgiven for thinking some of this. They have no point personal point of reference, having never been arrested or had cause to seek advice and representation from me or one of my colleagues. Their opinions are formed entirely from what they see on television or read in the newspapers. How many times have we heard politicians mention fat cat lawyers creaming off the legal aid system, or read a newspaper editorial telling the public that lawyers are wasting thousands of pounds representing the “feral underclass” who should have their rights to benefits, housing and representation taken away from them.
What did surprise me is that he should have those views after nearly thirty years in the force and reached the rank of Inspector, and for how long he has held those views. If a senior officer, working in an important team does not understand the role of the legal advisor in the interview, or why clients go no comment then what hope do those that follow in his footsteps have?
Sadly, his views are not unique among the police have a look through some of the police blogs and the views are echoed over and over. Of course I am not suggesting that these views are by any means universal. I know lots of police officers, both professionally and on a personal level and for the most part I and my clients are treated professionally and with courtesy. There are of course those that share the views of DI Campany. I can understand and to a degree sympathise with the frustration of a police officer who gets a no comment interview, the case laid out before the client, the evidence apparently overwhelming, why oh why will he just not admit it?
So let’s have a look at some of the specific allegations made by DI Campany.
DI Campany seems to have dealt with a unique collection of suspects, ones that always want to tell him the truth, who then without exception having seen a solicitor who make them go no comment. It is at this first hurdle that DI Campany falls, and any reasoned argument about an unfairly weighted justice system turns into a ridiculous rant.
As a solicitor representing a client in the police station I cannot make him do anything. I am there to offer advice on the law and evidence and make sure their rights and entitlements are protected. I can no more tell the client what to do in interview than I can stop the sun setting or the tide turning. The advice I give is very often not taken; it is only advice and I cannot force the client to abide by it. For the more experienced client I am often told what they intend to do rather than me suggesting a course of action. I cannot tell you the number of times that the client has been given advice and has gone “off message”, whether that be to answer questions or make no comment. Incidentally, DI Campany, you will know this is happening as I will ask for the interview to be stopped and to consult with my client.
I am bound to abide by a professional code of behaviour and ethics. I must make sure that I represent my client to the best of my ability and that my actions or advice must not adversely prejudice the client. If a client tells me that he is guilty of an offence then I can still act for him but I cannot actively assert his innocence. I cannot represent him in any subsequent trial putting his case on the basis that he is not guilty. I can put the prosecution to proof of their case, that is they must prove that the client acted in an unlawful manner alleged, but that is it. If, on the other hand he tells me he is not guilty then I can put forward any defence he wants me to. It matters not whether I think on the basis of the evidence I have seen he must be guilty, that has happened before and will no doubt happen in the future.
I do not as was suggested by DI Campany, and by officers I have come across personally, sit in the consultation with the client making up defences with him. I will of course point out to the client whether he does have a defence available to him, based on the information he provides me.
There are times when inevitably I will advise a client that he should not answer the police questions. Contrary to what DI Campany says and again what some police officers think, a no comment interview does not necessarily mean that the client is guilty and just does not want to admit it. The favourite line of some police officers confronted with a no comment interview is something like “By saying no comment you are not denying that you punched Mr X”, to which the retort is “Nor is he admitting that he punched Mr X, no comment is neither an admission or a denial, it means at this time my client is exercising his right to silence.”
There are many reasons for a no comment interview and I accept that might include an admission of guilt. I do not intend to go through all the reasons here. Suffice to say for the majority of police officers I deal with, the interview is a very small part of the investigation, they understand the role that the interview has, the solicitor has and the role he has. What every police officer should know, and certainly what DI Campany should understand after thirty years in the job is that the defendants apparent wish to “give their account in interview” is not necessarily a want to tell the truth in interview.
Which leads me on to the defences clients run in trial. I was amazed that an officer of his standing genuinely believes that lawyers will advise their client and make them run ridiculous defences at trial just to earn “shedloads of money”. The lack of understanding is staggering. A police officer is trained to collect evidence and present that evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service. A defence lawyer is trained to assess that evidence and the clients instructions and advise on a course of action. That advice can only ever be based on the instructions given. If the client says that he is not guilty, then he is not guilty. I will then tell the client where he has a defence and the strength of the evidence against him. Sometimes that advice will be that the evidence does not support his account and that he is likely to be found guilty after a trial. I will point out to him the reasons why his account fails and the credit he would receive for a guilty plea. If he maintains a not guilty plea then I will put forward the best defence I can on those instructions.
I would never advise a client to plead not guilty simply to obtain a trial fee, and do not think I have ever met a lawyer that would. What DI Campany does not realise is that the client is likely to have at least two lawyers look at his case and advise him. The solicitor that advised him at the police station and the early stages of the case, and the advocate that represents him at the Crown Court trial. That would mean that two separate lawyers would need to agree to run an unwinnable trial for financial gain. This is unlikely at best. Whether the public think so or not, a large part of my work comes from recommendation and reputation. I am not likely to jeopardise that for a few hundred pounds.
The reality of the situation is that bad people do bad things and some clients will never plead guilty. The system that we have is such that the Crown must prove their case and the jury must be sure of the defendants guilt. Sometimes this means that victims are subject to an unpleasant trial, that money is spent proving that persons guilt. It may not be a perfect system but I don’t see any better alternative. I don’t know the lawyers representing Crawford at the conclusion of whose trial DI Campany made these comments, but I am prepared to make a bet that they advised their client on the merits of his defence. I would also make a sizeable bet with DI Campany that they did not suggest to Campany run this trial so we can get more money.
I would also hazard a guess that DI Campany has no idea about how much lawyers actually get paid to represent a client at trial, but again as with many others, his belief and the reality is quite different. I am not going to expound on legal aid here, my views on that are clear.
I also do not agree with his criticism that the system is weighted in favour of the defendant. The way in which the justice system is seen to be weighed in favour of depends very much on what side of the fence you sit on. The victim and those supporting them, be that personally or professionally in the form of CPS and police, will always think that the defendant has the upper hand. The defendant will often think it is the other way around. I think it is about even at the moment, it changes, and measures are brought in to even up any perceived unfairness on either side. The question remains, what alternative is there. Whether we like it or not, there will always be victims, there will always be defendants. Where those exist and there is no agreement about what happened there will always be lawyers and trials.
I hope that three words have stuck out in this piece, Instructions, Advise and Represent. That is what we do. We obtain instructions, we advise on them and the evidence and we represent those instructions to the court on the client’s behalf. If DI Campany does not understand that at the end of thirty years service then perhaps it is for the best that he is retiring.
Finally, robbery is the use of force or the threat of force in order to steal. What DI Campany is suggesting sounds much more like obtaining property or a pecuniary advantage by deception. No wonder there are so many unnecessary trials when a DI cannot even get his offences right.