My clients are not Animals in the Zoo and shouldn’t be treated as such by others who are looking for clickbait or self promotion.

I’m a criminal lawyer, I seem to have a talent for attracting the most high profile, contentious or publicly hated clients. All my clients are important to me, whether they are a homeless person with mental health issues prosecuted for urinating on a war memorial, a young lad arrested at a football match, or someone facing the death penalty for serial murders, I don’t distinguish the level of support I give them on the basis of their notoriety or public outpouring of opinion on their alleged offences or their convictions.

I regularly receive emails, telephone calls and letters from media and TV companies, celebrity agents, politicians and others requesting access to my clients and asking me to provide comment on their cases. My answer is always the same, my clients are not animals in the zoo providing enjoyment to the interested bystander. My clients are people, and first and foremost my role is to protect their rights and interests. My personal view is that it’s not always helpful for a client facing execution to have a TV camera thrust in his face while being asked ‘are you scared about your execution?’ .

Over the past few days I’ve had numerous emails and calls from people telling me they want to visit my client in prison and can I arrange it. That’s not how it works. Firstly, I always ask my client if they want to be visited, it’s their decision, not the decision of the person who wants to visit. Secondly, a prisoner then has to make a request for that person to be permitted to visit. Thirdly, the prison has to approve that visit. In my experience, once those who are so intent on visiting my clients are told that it’s agreed, but only if it’s not reported, they decide that their schedule is too busy for a prison visit.

Which brings me to the current situation where every person and their dog seems to be wanting to provide an opinion on my clients. It always amazes me that those who have no interest in the welfare or issues surrounding my clients are the first to go on TV or radio and talk about the case, to write blogs, or social media posts, all with the same aim, to increase their own profile and/or increase click bait. Hence, Back to my comment, that my clients are not animals in the zoo to be watched from a distance, photographed or (virtually) poked, while keeping a safe distance because those who are doing the watching, photographing, commenting, poking had no interest in having anything to do with my clients until the client became high profile.

As far as I’m concerned, respect is the most important thing you can give a person. How a person views you, interacts with you, and develops trust in you, all flows from how you treat a person. Often I read or hear comment on one of my clients, which is not only factually incorrect but which is disrespectful or condescending. It doesn’t place those of us representing the most vulnerable in society (and anyone who is on trial, or is in prison is in a position of vulnerability as they lose control of a lot of their rights) in a good light if it appears we are trying to use our expertise, knowledge or intelligence to belittle or make fun of those who don’t understand the intricacies of the criminal justice system in England and Wales. It is understandable that those who don’t work in the criminal justice system have the wrong impression on how the System works. There probably isn’t a police officer, criminal lawyer, or judge who, when watching a TV drama involving the criminal justice system, hasn’t said ” but that’s not how it actually happens in real life.”

At a time when those of us working in the criminal justice system are trying to highlight the problems of the broken system we are facing on a daily basis, it does no justice to alienate members of the public who would not normally interact with us, and who we now have the benefit of informing about the broken system and indeed who are now a captive audience to explain how the criminal justice system works. There is quite a lot of distrust of those of us who work in the courts, and if a person who is a voter, or future defendant or family member of a future defendant has the impression that those of us defending on a daily basis feel we are better than those we represent, why should they support us when we are crying about the broken system and the reduction in our fees.

So, if you are going to use my clients for your own promotion or clickbait, please show respect when you do so, even if you don’t agree with their views.

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About gurdena

Social Justice Lawyer, interested in all things contentious. Specialising in criminal law, and anything criminal justice related, also employment law. Door tenant at 1 Grays Inn Square chambers. Find out more at www.alisongurden.com

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