The ALP and Coalition parties have many former barristers and solicitors serving as MPs. The current PM is a former solicitor, as was the last conservative PM. His deputy was a former barrister. The ranks of both are rife with lawyers.
Lawyers who know perfectly well that one of the fundamental precepts of our system of justice is that barristers are not entitled to refuse a brief just because they don’t like the person or company involved. The principle is that all people, regardless of how likeable or popular they are, are entitled to representation before the courts. There might be some limits now to that via successive governments slashing legal aid – apparently, poor people are not necessarily entitled to representation – but it has long been recognised that it’s a basic requirement of justice that people accused of bad things should be properly represented, and that representation should not be limited to the non-existent group of legal professionals who agree with them personally.
Hence when I represent someone accused of a crime, I’m not saying I approve of that crime. When I represent a company, I’m not endorsing its business. I am simply doing my job and representing their legal interests in court. We have an adversarial system that finds justice by having both sides’ cases tested properly. The barrister is not the judge; it’s not my role to decide who’s right and wrong, much less who’s nice and who’s repulsive.
And, as I said, of course the members of both big parties and the national media are well aware of this fundamental principle.
Which is why this shameless smear on Greens candidate Brian Walters SC by the Herald Sun and the ALP is so contemptible:
Brian Walters is running as the Greens’ star candidate for the marginal inner city seat at next month’s state election and has publicly condemned the production of brown coal.
But a Sunday Herald Sun investigation has revealed the prominent Melbourne barrister is acting for a brown coalmine accused of negligently causing the death of a worker.
It’s aimed straight at potential Greens voters who don’t understand the principle, and, of course, who aren’t given any explanation of why it exists. A journalist seeking to present a fair and balanced story, who wanted to inform his readers rather than mislead them, would have noted what I’ve put above. Instead, this is all the “balance” they get:
Asked if [Walters] saw it as a conflict of interest, he said: “I’ve got a duty as a barrister to accept briefs in an area in which I can practice. It would be an ethical breach for me to turn it down.”
That makes it sound like a self-interested little excuse, rather than the long-standing principle of justice that the journalist presumably knows it to be.
(I suppose if I ever ran for parliament, having done a lot of criminal law work, the Herald Sun would suggest that I love the most demonisable of my clients and want to have their babies.)
The ALP’s endorsement of this misleading News Ltd smear demonstrates just how shameless they are prepared to be in an effort to discourage progressive voters from voting for an actual progressive party:
ALP state secretary and campaign director Nick Reece said Greens voters would be surprised to hear that Mr Walters had such a client. “In life, it is not what you say, it is what you do,” he said. “The Greens party always talks about dirty coal, but it is obviously not dirty enough to stop Mr Walters seeking to profit from it.”
That’s Nick “sneaky leaflets” Reece, “seeking to profit” from a News Ltd smear he knows is thoroughly misleading.
And Bronwyn Pike, who is supposed to be from the ALP’s “progressive” wing, demonstrates the empty, dirty politics which former ALP voters are now rejecting:
Melbourne MP and Education Minister Bronwyn Pike also branded Mr Walters a hypocrite. “It’s no wonder the voters of Melbourne can’t pick the difference between the Liberals and Greens,” she said.
More like no wonder they can’t pick the difference between the ALP and the Liberals – big parties who play politics via dirt units and misleading News Ltd smears rather than advocating for progressive policies.
This incident should be seen as very embarrassing – for what it further reveals about Mr Reece and Ms Pike’s lack of principle, and what it further reveals about a news organisation that cares more about attacking its perceived enemies than informing its customers.
UPDATE: An ironic introduction from Mr Bolt on his link to the story:
Next they’ll tell me he uses airplanes and lights his house with power from coal-fired power stations, too
I’d be willing to bet he does, Andrew. As do the rest of us living in 21st century Australia. But that means we cannot advocate for change to the existing system (in which we’re limited to those options) why precisely?
And on this, Bolt is flat wrong:
Let’s leave aside the fact that a barrister can in fact pick and choose his cases
That’s not a “fact” at all. A barrister can’t refuse a brief just because he or she doesn’t like the client. That is not one of the permissible grounds for refusal.
UPDATE #2: I hadn’t realised that the Hun actually editorialised on this fatuous “expose”. You can’t tell me the editorial board of the Herald Sun is unaware of the “cab rank principle” under which barristers operate:
Mr Walters is right that everyone deserves a legal defence and the right to a fair trial. After all, barristers can represent murderers and rapists without condoning the crimes.
But the Greens profess to inhabit the moral and ethical high ground and therefore must be held accountable.
The chasm between those paragraphs is frankly one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen in that paper. That “but”, as if the last sentence somehow justifies the attack that the first two demonstrate to be outrageous – it’s just an extraordinary piece of writing.
Because of course the Greens should be held accountable. But suggesting there’s some “moral” or “ethical” problem with a barrister doing precisely what the rules that protect justice in our system demand (and which you acknowledge are there for a very good reason) – that’s absurd. It simply doesn’t make sense.