What does a criminal lawyer do?

A good criminal lawyer is your fierce advocate both in and out of the courtroom. A criminal lawyer should fight hard to achieve your goals, whatever they may be in your case. A criminal lawyer represents you against the State or Commonwealth, and advocates strongly to protect your position and achieve the desired outcome. 

A criminal lawyer represents you in the legal proceedings generally involving you and either the police, or the DPP (State or Federal) as prosecutor. There can be other prosecutors depending upon the nature of the charges, such as local governments or even the State Solicitor’s Office. A criminal lawyer argues your case both in and outside court for you, with a view to achieving whatever outcome it is that you wish to achieve. This could be the most favorable sentence, including downgrading or dropping of charges, an acquittal at trial or a discontinuance by the prosecution.  They should bring an impartial mind to your case, as well as a high degree of skill and expertise in criminal cases.

Criminal lawyers perform two main functions:

  1. Out of court work (performed by solicitors); &
  2. Court work (performed by barristers or ‘counsel’).

The legal profession is ‘fused’ in Western Australia so lawyers can be either solicitors, barristers, or both. Recent changes to the Uniform Law in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales even allow barristers to take on their own clients. So the distinction between different types of counsel, in a criminal case, is increasingly becoming blurred. 

Solicitors who practice solely as solicitors generally have to brief barristers to argue cases in court, such as trials and sentencing hearings. However, they may sometimes appear on short matters such as adjournments or non-contentious bail hearings. In criminal law, it is fairly rare to come across practitioners who practice solely as solicitors. 

Barristers generally appear in trials and sentencing hearings, but also provide expert advice either to solicitors or to clients. Barristers ordinarily only take instructions from a solicitor, rather than directly from the client. In the field of criminal law in Western Australia, there is an active ‘criminal bar’ where numerous barristers practice solely as barristers. 

At James Jackson Criminal Defence, our Director & Principal is a ‘barrister & solicitor’. This is also called a ‘solicitor advocate’ in some parts of Australia. Or in America, it is simply referred to as an ‘attorney’, where it is more common to be an attorney than either a ‘solicitor’ or ‘barrister’. A ‘barrister & solicitor’ or attorney does both court work and out of court work. In Western Australia, there are a number of practitioners in the criminal law sphere who fulfil the roles of both solicitor and barrister. 

A ‘barrister & solicitor’ interacts directly with the client and also argues their case in court. They generally do not have to brief other counsel although sometimes in highly complex matters they may brief a barrister such as a Senior Counsel or King’s Counsel. This has the benefit of multiple people considering the same matter and the skill and expertise of the most senior counsel being applied where required.

What out of court work does a criminal lawyer do?

Criminal lawyers generally do the following work out of court:

  • File applications including for bail and objecting to evidence;
  • Obtain all of the evidence the police or prosecution have in their possession, and follow up any outstanding evidence;
  • Review all of the evidence they have obtained from the prosecution;
  • Take instructions from you as to what outcome you wish to achieve,  what you say happened during the alleged offences, and in a sentencing case why you committed an offence;
  • Provide advice to you as to how you should plead to your charge/s, including advice about the discount for pleading guilty and the prospects of successfully defending a matter at trial;
  • Engage in negotiations with the police or prosecution, with a view to having charges dropped or downgraded; &
  • File submissions advocating your position on legal points, disputed evidence, and other contested hearings.

A good criminal lawyer can, through their out of court work, get your charges dropped or downgraded, provide you with clear advice and a successful defence strategy, and guide you through the legal process to an outstanding outcome. This can all be achieved without ever having a lengthy contested hearing such as a trial, in an appropriate case. In many cases, resolving a case without a trial is the far more preferable outcome. This avoids the uncertainty of a trial, significantly reduces the costs incurred to the client, and in many cases can result in a far better outcome than if a matter was pressed to trial, particularly in the face of a strong prosecution case. 

What court work does a criminal lawyer do?

Some of the court hearings that a criminal lawyer will represent you on include:

  • Mention hearings, typically in the Magistrates Court. These are very brief court appearances at the pre-trial stage where your lawyer will seek an adjournment to enable them to obtain the evidence and provide you with advice;
  • Bail applications, where your lawyer argues for you to be released on bail. These hearings can be brief but sometimes are lengthy and complex, particularly if they proceed in the Supreme Court or involve complex charges. A good criminal lawyer will provide you with sound advice as to your prospects of being released on bail, and present a persuasive case for bail to the Judge or Magistrate;
  • Trial listing hearings, which involve the listing of a matter for trial before a jury in the District Court. These require the lawyer to provide an estimated length of the trial, and to deal with any disputes about evidence or other pre-trial matters;
  • Directions hearings, which deal with disputed evidence such as propensity evidence. These are usually conducted in the District Court;
  • Pre-recordings of evidence. These hearings occur typically in sexual offence cases where the complainant is a minor, and allow their evidence to be taken and pre-recorded well in advance of the trial;
  • Trials before a Magistrate – summary trials in the Magistrates or Children’s Court can last from two hours to several days, and are far less formal than jury trials, although can be just as complex;
  • Trials before a jury – these occur in the District Court and Supreme Court for indictable offences, such as robbery or murder. Jury trials typically last from several days to several weeks and are attended with a high degree of formality. Jury trials can be complex and difficult and require a criminal lawyer with experience conducting trials before juries. At James Jackson Criminal Defence, our Director & Principal has over a decade of experience in conducting trials before juries in the District and Supreme Courts; &
  • Sentencing hearings. These can occur in all courts. They can be simple, involving a fine being imposed in the Magistrates Court for disorderly conduct. They can also be highly complex such as a sentencing for a multiple co-accused drug importation charge. Your criminal lawyer should at sentencing advocate strongly for you to achieve the most lenient sentence that is possible, taking into account all of the circumstances of your case.

A good criminal lawyer will successfully advocate your position in court without you having to say anything at all. They will be fully prepared for the hearing. They will have taken full instructions from you so that they can advocate your position no matter what questions get thrown at them from the Judge or Magistrate. A good criminal lawyer should alleviate the stress you suffer from being charged and dealing with the court process.

Criminal trials, particularly before juries, are stressful and intense proceedings. The stakes are high and a failure to properly present your case can result in loss of liberty for a significant period, and irrevocable damage to a person’s reputation and livelihood. It is critical to obtain the services of a skilled criminal trial advocate with sufficient experience and ability to defend you.

If you require an experienced, skilled criminal defence lawyer in Perth, don’t hesitate to contact our Director, James Jackson, today for a consultation.

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