~ is justice a public obligation? ~

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What about justice?

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Most Australians regard their country as fair & just when it comes to facing criminal charges.

People assume that our legal system promotes justice equally, on the basis of equal opportunity, for all citizens.

People assume that if a person is thrust into the criminal justice system in Australia, they will be treated fairly including having a lawyer by their side.

People assume that a lawyer will be provided by Government funded legal aid if they cannot access justice due to economic or other reasons i.e. if they cannot afford a lawyer.

That’s justice Australian style & everybody agrees.

Or do they?

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Many in Australia regard Government legal aid directed towards the poor as a handout, a form of social welfare.

Legal aid in the criminal courts in South Australia is provided through the Government’s Legal Services Commission (LSC).image001(2)[1]

Lawyers who choose to do legal aid work get paid by the Government/LSC to represent those who qualify.

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If a person facing criminal charges does not qualify for legal aid & cannot afford a lawyer, there are lawyers who provide services pro bono.  For free.  No payment required.

Along side working for private paying clients, zCHZa9scFW8_13331111[1]the firm does a ton of legal aid & pro bono work in the criminal courts all of it equally challenging & enjoyable.

And, yes, as criminal defence lawyers, we are routinely challenged with what we lawyers call ‘The Question’ or, more accurately, ‘The Questions’.

Challenged about representing the criminally accused, you know, those people”.

“How can you?”

Challenged about “wasting” tax payers dollars, “our money” on representing “those people”.

“How can you?”

Challenged about “why should we as citizens pay you lawyers to defend criminals?”

“How can you?”

Challenged about assisting “those people” for “free”.

“How can you?”

What people are really saying is,

“How can you represent people you know are guilty?”

The legal presumption of innocent ’til proven guilty, a fundamental principal of Australian law, is simply ignored.

Thing is, people challenge us all the time until they, a family member, a relative, or a friend, or somebody they know, becomes the criminally accused.

Then, humbled in their experience of justice, they reward us with their gratitude.

… all part & parcel of practicing in the criminal justice system.

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I wonder about this justice thing?  Is justice a public obligation?

Should justice be regarded as a public obligation say, like roads, hospitals, recreation parks or schools?

In other words, is justice an essential service?

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Working as a lawyer for those who cannot pay is not welfare.

I regard it as unfair & unjust that the less well off are denied justice in being denied legal assistance.

I regard justice as an essential service.

Justice should not depend on how much money a person has.

Justice should not be distributed according to wealth.

But it is.

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