I have posted a previous blog supporting our system of justice. It is not a perfect system. Rather, it is the best system that we have been able to develop during the past 350 years. Justice in New Zealand is primarily delivered via our Courts. The Courts hear both criminal and civil claims. The criminal justice system can often be a world away from regulated and relatively private contest of a civil dispute. The passing of Greg King, one of New Zealand’s higher profile criminal barristers, drew a few comments from Sir Bob Jones which were reported in the New Zealand Herald yesterday morning. Specifically, the Herald reported that Sir Bob Jones was of the view that Greg King “accepted opprobrium was part of his job”. I am not so sure if that is correct. However, Sir Bob Jones personally knew Greg King. I cannot claim the same for my part. What I can say is that the comment is concerning for two reasons. First, defence counsel play a critical and essential role in our criminal justice system. The system can only work when guilt is established after it has been properly tested. Good defence counsel ensures that all relevant evidence is properly put to the test. Good defence counsel are just as responsible as good prosecution counsel to make sure that the guilty are found to be exactly that, guilty. The only way we as a society can have faith that our prisons, which costs our country over $90k per annum per prisoner (not an insignificant amount), are full of those who deserve to be there is because, in part, of good defence counsel. Good defence counsel should be applauded for the part they undertake. Whereas the incompetent should be regarded as an opprobrium of legal profession when they fail to ensure that justice is properly administered. Greg King should never have accepted such behaviour. I doubt he would have been an advocate for a return to the justice of the mob which is really the mind set of those who direct their contempt towards defence counsel. The second concern is possibly based on a poor use of a descriptive term. I would be surprised if Greg King regarded himself as having a “job”. My impression of him was that he had answered a strong call to the bar to which he excelled and possibly, at times, over committed himself to his own detriment. I understand that he undertook periods of work beyond what most would regard as being healthy or well balanced. I am sure the reasons behind his motives were of the best intentions. I would be surprised if he saw his commitment and the sacrifices he made on behalf of his family and himself were just because it was a requirement of the “job”. In my experience there are two types of lawyers, being those who are following a calling and those who undertake it as a job. My outside perspective was that Greg King fell into the former. Should Greg King have accepted opprobrium as being part of his job? I think not.
By Chris Patterson