Why Do Lawyers Defend ‘Factually Guilty’ Persons

A lot of people view lawyering jobs through dirty windows. They see lawyers as those without ethics and goodwill, because they believe lawyers earn dirty money. Just like others, this was why Sir Collins Columba Nobri  opined that

“… Lawyers’ job description also includes defending paedophiles, pimps, murderers, kidnappers, corrupt politicians, liars, sociopaths, psychopaths etc… ”

As much I agree with this,  I hold that the notions are not right.

Lawyers play a crucial role in our legal system. So, just because a lawyer is defending the guilty does not mean the lawyer is without any ethics and goodwill. The law is far beyond our usual thinking process, and for you to understand why lawyers represent all kinds of persons, you need to understand the law a bit more.

A lawyer does not only fight the case for an ‘offender,’ but he professionally also helps the court to get justice for those who are the victims. As opposed to what the general public thinks, not only victims of criminality deserve justice.

The multiple facets of justice were aptly captured by Chukwudifu Oputa, JSC (as he then was, now of blessed memory) in the case of Godwin Josiah v. The State, when he said:

“Justice is not a one-way traffic. It is not for the appellant alone. Justice is not even a two-way traffic. It is really a three-way traffic. Justice for the appellant, accused of the heinous crime of murder; justice for the victim, the murdered man, the ‘deceased’, whose blood is crying to heaven for vengeance and finally, justice for the society whose social norms and values have been desecrated and broken by the criminal act complained of.”

What is justice for the offender and the state, may not be justice for the victim. For justice therefore to be justice, it must meet the needs of the offender, victim and society. Denying an offender legal representation simply means denying him justice, on his part.

The law has given lawyers the right and permission to represent persons charged with criminal offences to ensure the due process of law with the sole aim of achieving justice.

A person charged with a criminal offence is entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court, section 36(5) of the Constitution presumed the person to be innocent until he is proven guilty by the court.

It is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove his guilt. Simply charging someone with a crime is not enough. Here comes the role of a criminal defence lawyer. The lawyer represents the accused to ensure that the prosecution can prove their case using the due process of law.

Again, section 36(6) of the Constitution provides that “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to –(c) defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice.”

Furthermore, section 395 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, provides that the Court must provide a person with legal representation in a case of a capital offence, or an offence punishable by life imprisonment.

All these rights do not depend on whether the person is guilty or not. These are given to each defendant in every criminal case. Lawyers play a crucial role when it comes to ensuring that all those constitutional rights are upheld and protected as well.

It is the rule of evidence that the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, to avoid the mistake of convicting an innocent person.

The principle has always been that it is better for one hundred accused persons to go free than for one innocent person to be punished for an offence he did not commit, or has no hands in its committal. This can only be achieved when the accused has legal representation.

Another important thing the general public needs to put into consideration is the difference between factual and legal guilt. Factual guilt refers to whether a defendant did commit the crime he is accused of.

On the other hand, legal guilt refers to whether his guilt can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, a defendant may have committed burglary — and thus be factually guilty — but if there is no evidence, he cannot be found legally guilty.

I write this to disabuse our minds that lawyers are not without ethics and goodwill for representing accused persons in court. In fact, what we are oblivious of is the fact that lawyers are ministers in the temple of justice, defenders of the truth, championing the cause of justice. Defending persons charged with criminal offences is in the best interest of justice – for the victim, accused and the state.

I end this with the words of Lord Chief Justice Hewart,

“Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”


About the author:

Chrispodiah Emmanuel is an avid reader, ardent writer, enthusiastic knowledge seeker, and a final-year law student with the faculty of law, Taraba State university. He can be reached at [email protected]


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