By: Tamar Bitton, Articling Student at Derstine Penman
I’m always asked why I decided to pursue a career in criminal law. “How can you defend those people?” or “How can you defend someone if you know they’re guilty?” are questions that I answer regularly.
I welcome those questions. Why? Because it gives me an opportunity to talk about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms– the most important document we have in Canada. The Charter acts as a vehicle to control and limit state interference with individual autonomy and liberty. It also ensures that individuals accused of criminal offences are treated fairly and are not prejudiced by state behaviour. As such, I plan to spend the rest of my career fighting for my clients’ rights no matter who they are or what they are alleged to have done.
At times it can be difficult to do our jobs. The hate we receive from members of the public for doing our jobs can sometimes be overwhelming, which is why support from our colleagues is important. And for the most part, when it comes to fighting for our clients’ rights, the support is there. But where is the love for each other?
Where is the Lawyer Support?
Last week, I was in front of a Justice of the Peace for two adjournments. What should have been a quick adjournment, turned into a disaster. I was told by Her Worship that I had no standing in her courtroom because I was an articling student, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to speak to my client because I was an articling student, and not a lawyer, I was berated and yelled at, and initially I wasn’t granted my adjournment. While this all was taking place defence lawyers in the courtroom, and the Crown, stayed silent. No one intervened. No one assisted. When I canvassed the room for assistance, I was met with shoulder shrugs or whispers of “there’s nothing you can do.” Instead, the Crown suggested that waiving 11b may assist in granting my adjournment. I was shocked and dismayed – this coming from a Minister of Justice.
We can’t allow this type of behaviour to continue. Injustice continues when we stay silent. We don’t hesitate to speak out for our clients, so why is the same courtesy not granted to each other? We shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for each other, especially when the attack is personal. So to my esteemed colleagues reading this, the next time you’re in court, please pay attention to what’s happening around you. We all deserve to be treated with respect. Stand up for your colleagues. You can make a difference.
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