To plead, or not to plead: that is the question.

When we hear about a serious crime that happened locally or maybe in the news, we automatically want to know, what were the circumstances of the crime? Who did it? Will they be caught? What will their punishment be?

It’s also a normal reaction to jump to conclusions of guilt, when you hear parts of the story and start piecing it together…‘their partner has been arrested’, ‘a male in his 30’s has been charged’. You assume guilt, even though, we know we’re meant to do the opposite and find out all of the facts first. For all we know, the male in his 30’s who was charged, may very well have been in Eddie Rockets, chomping down on a cheese please and an Oreo milkshake, when the crime occurred.

I have been asked many times, “How can you defend that sort of lad?”  That is something that most criminal defence solicitors ask themselves, but if you can’t see beyond the charge and recognise that there might not be a case to answer, then it’s time to take up something else. It is a human and constitutional right to be permitted a defence and indeed for fair procedure to prevail no matter how serious the allegation. The basic rule of law demands that a person or company be afforded due process.

Defence solicitors are not Judge’s or jurors. We are there to peruse the evidence and offer the client our advices to permit them to make an informed decision. Whether a client is innocent or guilty is a matter for the Judge or Jury and is not something that a criminal defence lawyer should concern themselves with.

On the hugely popular TV series ‘Making a murderer’, the subject Steven Avery - a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for rape and attempted murder, before being exonerated by new DNA evidence, is a prime example of justice gone wrong. Could this happen in Ireland? Or, indeed, have similar events occurred?

Wrongly convicted: Miscarriages of justice in Ireland

FEICHIN HANNON Granted a certificate of miscarriage of justice after his conviction for sexual assault in 1999 was quashed when the complainant admitted she had invented the allegations.

NORA WALL A nun accused of rape following false allegations by two women who later admitted lying, Wall served four days of a life sentence in 1999 before her conviction was quashed. The trial took place against the background of widespread revelations about clerical child abuse, which may have influenced the jury. In 2005, Wall was declared the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Evidence from all countries is that mistaken identification is the most common reason for wrongful convictions, as honest witnesses often make mistakes. Think about that. Imagine being accused of a crime because you looked like someone who committed it, and you were in the wrong place, at the wrong time? Steven Avery knows all about it.

When it comes to justice, we all have our jobs to do in the legal game. When working with An Garda Síochána, I think an appreciation of each other’s roles is crucial. It is important to understand each other’s responsibilities and duties. From the lawyer’s perspective taking into account a suspect’s right to a fair trial, and for Gardai, fairly representing the interests of victims/witnesses of crime and society in general.

It was the late, great Martin Luther King Jr who said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Although, by its very nature, the work that criminal lawyers do is complicated and hard to understand, it is vital in order to maintain justice and ensure fair outcomes for anyone up against legal charges. Criminal defence lawyers are simply doing their duty to defend a citizen whose rights are protected and cannot be easily taken away.