I am writing this blog to bring a sober look at the justice system, both in Criminal law and Family law. I have found that many people relate to the criminal justice system through media, whether through the news or through entertainment. As a result, there is a distortion between the public and the justice system and what it means for a person to be charged with a criminal offence.
As a lawyer, I have been able to gain an understanding of the justice system that appears too distant from the general public. The problem lies in the media covering legal cases and the time it takes for cases to be heard, and the interest that can be sustained from the time they begin. What I mean by this is that we often hear the loud dramatic music on the local or national news advising that there has been a dramatic event and that charges have been laid. Frequently, the persons face appears on the news, the internet and the newspaper. The public is informed that an arrest has been made and the culprit is in custody.
It is only after this dramatic turn of events that the defence lawyer is called. Now the pace will slow because the facts will come in. The defence lawyer will focus on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. It is amazing to hear stories about the interactions of people and realize just how messy these moments are in peoples’ lives. People will often distort their stories in their favor. What I mean by this is that people will conveniently forget details when making statements that might make them look bad or will exaggerate what occurred for effect. Often times this is inadvertent because biases like those are used by everyone at some time or another.
When the police arrest an accused they are given the option to remain silent. This is a constitutional right that is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When an accused is arrested they will be taken to the police detachment and given the option to speak to a lawyer. After speaking to a lawyer, the accused will almost always be advised to remain silent.
When the media reports on a story they usually are producing the story with the police report, which is by definition one sided. The public is infused with the powerful images and stories from the police report but will not stay with the story long enough to get the full picture. The accused will be the only one to fill in that picture and it will take months to years in order to bring the matter to a close.
The public needs to understand that crime happens in seconds. In those seconds, people have accidents, not intending the event to happen. People defend themselves from attacks. Accused people are misidentified. It is because of this that defence lawyers are essential in order to ensure justice. The media used to understand this.
In television, defence lawyers were represented as the protagonists with the famous TV icons of Perry Mason and Matlock, and Movie icons like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Defence lawyers were properly recognized as those committed to fighting for peoples rights. Now shows like Law and Order paint defence lawyers with a very negative brush. It is time for media to report in a balanced fashion by identifying the problems that exist in the beginning and write about the need to get the full picture in the months to come.