What is a Defence Lawyer?

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Brittany LlewellynSophie ParsonsThe article What is a Defence Lawyer? is written by Sophie Parsons and Brittany Llewellyn of Doogue + George Defence Lawyers.

Sophie is a Partner, In-House Counsel, and an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist at Doogue + George. She specialises in serious indictable criminal matters and has appeared before investigative bodies such as Royal Commission, IBAC and VCAT.

Brittany is one of our Associates based at our Broadmeadows office. She handles diversion applications, complex pleas, and matters related to contesting charges in both the summary and indictable County Court streams. Brittany was previously a County Court Judge’s Associate prior to joining the firm.

Defence LawyerAs criminal defence lawyers, we are often asked what it is that we do, and why.

How is that we defend ‘criminals’, people charged with sometimes immoral and serious crimes? How do we represent people if we ‘know’ they are ‘guilty’?

What Do We Do?

Criminal defence lawyers are a fundamental part of the legal system in Australia.

Our role is about ensuring anyone who is the subject of an accusation receives a fair trial.

This role reflects the manifestation of a fundamental human right:

“In the determination of any criminal charge… everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”1

We represent individuals, groups, organisations, and corporations where there is an allegation of wrongdoing involved (generally leveled at our client, although not always). The truly consistent feature is that we represent people in stressful situations who have a compelling story to tell.

Not every accusation is true. We defend many innocent people who are accused of wrongdoing and charged with criminal offences.

It is essential that a person receives legal representation to ensure a just outcome.

In an adversarial system of justice, cases are not prosecuted and heard as a ‘search for the truth’. The prosecuting authority always bears the burden of proving the wrongdoing to the requisite standard. In criminal cases, it is beyond reasonable doubt; and in a civil case, it is the balance of probabilities.

Criminal defence lawyers hold the prosecuting authorities accountable to this standard by challenging evidence and preparing arguments in response to allegations.

Criminal defence lawyers:

  • Provide advice about legal rights, evidentiary issues, and possible consequences.
  • Consider materials to assess the strengths and weaknesses in the evidence.
  • Exercise strategic decision-making skills to achieve the most favourable outcome.
  • Refer people to external support services, such as rehabilitative and health services.
  • Engage forensic experts to provide reports to challenge the admissibility of evidence.
  • Prepare a case to dispute the allegations and establish that a person should be found not guilty, or prepare material for a plea in mitigation to submit that a person should receive a lenient sentence.
  • Appear in courts at every level and before investigative bodies and tribunals.
  • Compile detailed submissions in response to formal investigations.
  • Comply with all professional and ethical rules and obligations as practising lawyers.

At Doogue + George Defence lawyers, in addition to representing people charged with criminal offences, we assist people involved in disciplinary and regulatory matters, investigations, Royal Commissions, coronial inquests, intervention orders, WorkSafe and council prosecutions, spent convictions applications, exemption, travel and suspension of reporting obligation applications, and everything else in between.

Why Do We Do It – Our Values

We support our clients through arduous investigations and court procedures.

As defence lawyers, we have a particular skill in understanding people. Everyone has a story to tell. We appreciate the nuances and ambiguity that exist as part of the human experience, and that a person’s character, context, and conduct are complex and unique.

For the individual whose conduct is the subject of an investigation or criminal charge, the experience is often lonely and stressful. People are at risk of losing their liberty, employment, and reputation. They may experience unwanted media attention, and personal relationships may prove fragile. It is an unfortunate reality that significant consequences can be felt at a very early stage of proceedings, all as a result of an unproved allegation before any formal finding is made.

Specialised and expert representation is key to supporting people through challenging processes. Many vulnerable people from disadvantaged backgrounds are charged with criminal offences. It is well known that a person’s “social and economic context” may mean they are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system and receive prison sentences.2 Often, a broader understanding of a person’s historical context and experience is integral to providing effective and competent legal representation.

Criminal defence lawyers share a core set of values:

  • Empathy. We care about people and provide compassionate professional support during stressful situations.
  • Justice. We feel strongly that people deserve the right to a fair trial and that every person’s voice deserves to be heard. We ensure prosecuting authorities are accountable.
  • Advocacy. We are knowledgeable about evidence and law, skilled in presenting persuasive arguments and determined to achieve the most favourable outcome possible.
  • Integrity. We carefully consider decision-making and communications. We comply with all ethical and procedural obligations as practising lawyers.

We understand that allegations and accusations involving immoral and serious conduct are a necessary part of the work that we do. We are often motivated by our “abiding scepticism of the reflexive use of state power and a deep commitment to individual human dignity”.3 Many of us have an inherent ability to “find something sympathetic about the people [we] represent” and understand something about the complexity of the human experience.4

Ultimately, we believe in the importance of our role in the legal system of Australia and feel a strong commitment to assist our clients in circumstances of immense pressure.

That is why we do what we do.

[1] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 14.
[2] Ruth McCausland and Eileen Baldry ‘The social determinants of justice: 8 factors that increase your risk of imprisonment’, The Conversation (17 April 2023) <https://theconversation.com/the-social-determinants-of-justice-8-factors-that-increase-your-risk-of-imprisonment-203661>.
[3] Abbie Smith, ‘Representing rapists: the cruelty of cross examination and other challenges for a feminist criminal defense lawyer’ (2016) 53 American Criminal Law Review 255, 257.
[4] Ibid 264.

Date Published: 19 April 2023

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