Australian criminal defence lawyers have a variety of legal duties. Generally, they are required to keep communications between them and their clients confidential. Such lawyers must also avoid conflict of interest, which basically means they cannot represent several parties in the same criminal matter. Understanding the duties of criminal lawyers can help you know what to expect from them.
Generally, criminal lawyers must maintain privacy, or privilege, regarding attorney-client communications. Although privilege allows clients to speak to their attorneys safely without fears of reprisals, there are some cases where there are exceptions. Normally, attorneys may break privilege to prevent bodily injuries or deaths or pursuant to court orders. Clients also have the right to waive privilege. Lastly, the death of a client means attorney-client communications have lost privileged status.
A criminal defence lawyer has a duty to represent their client zealously by taking all steps (within reason) to prepare a viable defence. The attorney must subpoena documents, review police reports, interview witnesses, gather facts and research statutes and precedents. Lawyers may also ask a court to consider novel or new interpretations of current law in a bid to maintain their client's interests. Attorneys need to be ready to prepare compelling arguments for judges and examine witnesses at trial.
Interests or conflicts
It is the duty of criminal lawyers to avoid any conflicts of interest when they represent their clients. For instance, if a number of accountants are facing criminal fraud charges, their defence attorneys may decide to shift blame to one another. Lawyers are not allowed to incriminate one client so as to help another. They must also make sure that previous clients are not the cause of conflicts in current cases. For example, a lawyer may fail to adequately attack a witness if the two had a previous attorney-client relationship.
Honesty to courts
Like all lawyers, a criminal defence attorney is a court officer and owes a duty of candour to judges and juries. A lawyer may therefore not knowingly make in court representations that are false. An attorney is required to be as honest as possible when they are communicating with courts. Lawyers are not allowed to support clients with the intent of committing perjury. In case they deal with clients who plan to commit perjury, they must take steps that will reasonably remedy the intention of their clients. This may include braking attorney-client privilege lawfully to report perjury.