It is unfortunate that some criminal lawyers in Sydney don’t spend the time to stay abreast of the constant changes in our complex web of criminal laws and procedures in NSW.
While there is no substitute for relevant experience or specialisation, all criminal lawyers should regularly access high quality legal resources – especially in the current environment where criminal laws are ever-changing and expanding, and where courts are being called-upon on a daily basis to interpret various parts of criminal legislation.
I was discussing aspects of sexual assault law with a relatively well-known and experienced criminal lawyer outside the Downing Centre Courts in Sydney recently, and quickly became aware that he simply did not know of many vital developments in sexual assault laws that have occurred over the past few years (see http://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/criminal/offences/sex-offences)
I tried not to indicate my surprise but to generally mention some of the changes and, perhaps more importantly, to direct him towards the use of helpful legal resources.
But while speaking to him I couldn’t help but ask myself – How can he possibly defend these cases when he doesn’t know what he can and can’t obtain by subpoena, or what information can and can’t be used in sexual assault cases? How can he draft thorough submissions and convince prosecutors to drop charges when he doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of the law? How can he represent clients in court? Is he unaware that there have been changes or could he just not be bothered learning them? It is just not good enough.
I am of the view that all criminal lawyers in Sydney must regularly spend time accessing, reading and absorbing information contained in quality legal resources such as JIRS (the Judicial Commission’s website – which is used by Judges and Magistrates), Criminal Law Practices (such as LexisNexis, which are regularly updated and a very good starting point) in addition to the wide range of online resources, many of which are free such as AUSTLII (which contains a range of legislation and cases), the Public Defender’s website (which contains usefully grouped comparable cases), ComLaw (for Commonwealth cases and legislation) etc.
Keeping abreast of the changes in criminal law is essential to providing high quality legal work, especially for serious criminal cases such as drug supplies and importantions, fraud, serious assaults, indecent and sexual assaults, robberies etc.
It can make the difference between, on the one hand, effectively communicating deficiencies and having all criminal charges dropped and, on the other hand, making your client go through the distress and expense of a lengthy District or Supreme Court trial – not to mention the risk!
The point is – if you are going to be entrusted as a criminal lawyer you have an obligation to keep up-to-date with criminal legislation, cases, process and procedure.
It’s something that will help you win cases, ‘control the damage’ (eg reduce charges / the penalty in cases where the evidence is stacked against your client), make your clients happy, give you a good feeling, a good reputation and may even lead to criminal case referrals in the future.