As criminal lawyers Sydney based, we represent people from all walks of life, says Principal lawyer at CDLA, Jimmy Singh.

Unfortunately, movies and TV shows have portrayed criminal lawyers in a bad light, prompting members of the public asking the question criminal lawyers get asked too often, “but how can you defend a criminal?”, or “how can you defend a guilty person?”.” Jimmy added.

Too often we hear about a media coverage of either someone charged with a serious alleged offence or how a criminal lawyer has got his/her client off a charge due to a “technicality” or “loop hole” in the law.

The job of a criminal lawyer is both difficult and rewarding.

Their clients range from taxi drivers, struggling single parents, troubled children, to corporations, directors, bankers, including the rich and famous.

A criminal lawyers job is not just to defend an accused person. It goes far beyond that.

A criminal lawyer’s role is generally governed by a set of values and rules, which have been reflected in the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015.

The Solicitors’ conduct rules provide a foundation on how lawyers should ethically conduct themselves as practicing lawyers in Australia. This includes:

  1. To act in the best interest of their clients in any matter which the lawyer represents the client.
  2. To be honest and courteous in all dealings, in the course of working as a lawyer.
  3. To deliver legal services competently, diligently and as promptly as reasonably possible.
  4. To avoid any compromise to his/her dignity and professional independence; and
  5. To comply with the Solicitors’ conduct rules and the law.

A lawyer also has a paramount duty to the administration of justice and the court (rule 3 Solicitors Conduct Rules).

Our criminal justice system is built on the principle that we rather have a guilty person be let free than an innocent person jailed.

To reflect this principle in practice, for an accused person to be found guilty, the prosecution is required to prove, with sufficient evidence, to the court that the accused person committed the offence “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Up until such time, the accused person is presumed innocent.

In line with the same principle, the accused person is given the benefit of the doubt.

This means, if the extent of the evidence shows that an accused person ‘possibly’ committed the crime, the court would be required to return a verdict of “not guilty”, resulting in dismissal of the charge(s) and acquittal of the accused.

What is the Difference Between a Lawyer and a Criminal Lawyer?

A “criminal lawyer” specialises in the area of criminal law who represents people charged with a criminal offence while protecting their fundamental legal rights, shared by all. In contrast, a “lawyer” is a term used to describe all types of lawyers regardless of their area of specialty, including civil litigation, commercial law, property or family law.

Some lawyers, like GP’s, practice all areas of law in the way a General Practitioner doctor does. When a person is facing a particular complex criminal case/charge, a criminal lawyer is the best person to get accurate advice, guidance and representation from.

What are the Responsibilities of a Criminal Lawyer?

A criminal lawyer is required to test the police’s evidence, protect the clients’ legal rights, to put the clients’ version across in the best possible way, and to assist the court in determining the reliability of the police’s evidence in context where the court is to ultimately determine whether the evidence establishes the allegations beyond reasonable doubt.

This responsibility extends to not misleading the court, to avoid any conflicts of interest in cases, to act in the best interest of clients, and to be honest and courteous in the dealings as a lawyer to uphold the confidence and integrity in the legal profession.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Criminal Lawyer?

To be a good criminal lawyer, the skills needed include strong communication skills which include advocacy and the art of persuasion skills, empathy, sense of justice, willingness to fight for the same fundamental rights we all share regardless of what the client is charged with, ability to identify the important details of the evidence, and an ability to comprehend complicated legislation and legal issues in order to apply that knowledge to the case.


How to Become a Criminal Lawyer

Here’s a summary on how to become a criminal lawyer in Australia:

  1. Complete an L.L.B Bachelors of Laws as an undergraduate or post-graduate, usually from a University law school or Juris Doctor (JD).
  2. Complete a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice and graduate though the College of Law. This requires completion of a Practical Legal Training (PLT) portion as a pre-requisite to being admitted into practice.
  3. Attend the admission ceremony to formally be sworn in as a lawyer by the Supreme Court. This is also referred to as being admitted as a lawyer in order to be allowed to practice as a lawyer, appear in court and give advice to clients under the supervision of a principal lawyer before attaining an unrestricted practising certificate to be allowed to practice without supervision.

What Does a Criminal Lawyer Do Daily?

On a daily basis, a criminal lawyer juggles many tasks, which includes representing and appearing in court on a daily basis, arguing in-front of Judges, and preparing for cases. This also includes legal research, advising & guiding clients, while managing client expectations, and working with barristers and other experts.

Further to that, a criminal lawyers’ daily tasks also include communicating with the prosecution to negotiate to get charges dropped or downgraded, conduct case conferences for serious allegations, or serving reports and/or evidence to relevant parties.

Here is an outline on how much does a criminal lawyer cost in Australia?.

What are the Different Types of Criminal Lawyers?

The two main types of criminal lawyers are defence lawyers and prosecutors. A prosecution lawyer works in criminal law and represents the Police and the State to prosecute those charged with a crime. In contrast, a criminal defence lawyer also works in criminal law but represents the person charged in order to defend their rights. Criminal lawyers may also specialise in specialty areas of criminal appeals lawyers and section 10 dismissal non conviction sentence proceedings, or drink driving lawyers.

Both types of criminal lawyers are also there to assist the court in reaching justice.


What is the Difference Between a Criminal Lawyer and a Barrister?

The fundamental difference between a criminal lawyer and a barrister is that a barrister wears a robe and wig in the court room advocating for clients before a jury or Judge in very serious criminal cases after having passed the bar exam. In contrast a criminal lawyer instructs the barrister in preparing cases, which predominantly include preparation and sitting in court with the barrister to assist and work together as a team.

However, a criminal lawyer also appears and advocates in court for clients in serious criminal cases, often without a barrister. This ordinarily takes place in the Local Court to a higher degree than the District and Supreme Court.

How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Criminal Lawyer?

To become a criminal lawyer, it will take about 5-6 years from completing a law degree at a law school in Australia, to completing a graduate diploma in legal practice including practical legal training, to then becoming admitted as a lawyer in the Supreme or High Court of Australia, and finally practising exclusively in criminal law in a law firm or prosecution.

This assumes that you complete your law degree on a full-time basis. It will take longer if you do a double degree at university and/or part-time.

Click here for information on how much does a criminal lawyer earn in Australia?.

What Could Happen if We Didn’t Use the Current System of Criminal Justice?

Without this way of ‘doing things’ under the law, the police who are increasingly gaining more and more power will be able to charge and successfully prosecute a person based on a ‘word of mouth’ where there is limited to no reliable evidence.

This would then cause a chain of events against an accused person through the criminal justice system- effectively changing that individual’s life.

The accused would then either remain in custody on remand until the case is finally decided down the track- which can take years, or he/she can be released on bail conditions until such time.

The court would ultimately hear the evidence in court- which may be based on one person’s words, which may be based on a mistake or confusion by the witness- as people do in reality mishear and/or inaccurately recall events.

There have been many instances where an alleged victim or witness has given evidence in court that is incorrect due to a mistake, or out of an ulterior motive of revenge. Unfortunately, these things do occur.

Nonetheless, without the current criminal justice system in place, such evidence could create at least a possibility that the accused person committed the alleged crime- but if this is the extent of the standard of proof that’s required to establish guilt, an innocent person could easily be locked up in jail, in some cases for life!

Our current criminal justice system is built on a system to get rid of the chances of a tragedy like this occurring.

In our current system, if the prosecution fail to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt with their evidence in court, then the charge will get dismissed. 

What is a Criminal Lawyer?

In summary, a criminal lawyer is a lawyer who specialises in the area of criminal law, usually with years of experience in this specialty legal area. This type of lawyer therefore either represents people accused of criminal offences or prosecutes those who are. Fundamentally, a criminal lawyer protects peoples legal rights from being abused, is a mouth piece for their clients, while providing specialised guidance and advice at all stages of the criminal justice system, from bail applications, guilty pleas to conducting trials in court.

What’s the Role of Criminal Lawyers in Sydney and Across the Nation Today?

A criminal lawyers task is a difficult one- they are the ones who stand against letting the state have endless power to punish anyone it desires.

A criminal defence lawyer’s role is to prevent any unreliable police evidence from being used against their client, which could otherwise lead to an innocent person being convicted with a jail sentence.

Why Do Criminal Lawyers Defend Criminals?

Keeping the above principles in mind, a criminal lawyer either defends a client from criminal charge(s) or represents a client for sentence.

Criminal lawyers are meant to act on those principles of law, which guides a lawyer in his/her role.

A criminal lawyers’ job is not to decide guilt or innocence, nor is it to judge their clients- the Court’s role is to do that, namely, to hear the evidence and decide on right or wrong, guilt or innocence.

Criminal lawyers are in a way, the vehicle by which the courts rely on to assist it in efficiently reaching to that end result, in the interest of justice.

The lawyer is there to ensure that the client’s rights are protected and is fairly treated, by ensuring the principles of law that protect everyone are upheld by police and courts.

This is to ensure that those same principles of law (that keep us all protected) are never blurred, which could otherwise create a situation where an innocent person is one day convicted and jailed.

A criminal lawyer continues to fight this battle with every client he/she represents. 

What Happens When a Criminal Lawyer Comes Across a Client Who Confesses Guilt but Maintains a Plea of ‘Not Guilty’? “I Did It, But I Want You to Defend Me”.

When a client confesses guilt to his/her lawyer but maintains a plea of ‘not guilty’ to the criminal charge, the lawyer has any one of the following options according to rule 20.2 Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015:

  1. The lawyer can cease to represent the client if there’s enough time for the client to get another lawyer before the hearing or trial provided the client doesn’t insist on having the same lawyer; or
  2. If the same lawyer continued to represent the client, the lawyer must be careful in the way he/she runs the case, for example the way the case runs will be limited in the following ways:
    • The lawyer will not be able to put a case forward on the basis that it was someone else who committed the offence.
    • The case cannot be run in a way of putting forward a positive case inconsistent with the client’s confession. This means, that you will not be able to put forth evidence suggesting the client did not commit the crime. The lawyer will be limited to only testing the police evidence by cross examining each police witness and asking the court to conclude that they have not established their case beyond reasonable doubt against the client.
  3. The lawyer is required to stop acting for the client if the client insists on giving evidence denying guilt or in any way asserts he/she is innocent.

If the Client Pleads Guilty or if Found Guilty in Court

If a criminal lawyers’ client pleads guilty or is found guilty, the court will proceed to sentence where the Judge or Magistrate will determine an appropriate penalty to impose after hearing any further evidence the offender wishes to produce that may reduce the sentence.

In that case, the prosecution may also produce further evidence relevant to the sentence which may increase the sentence.

Where the evidence used by either party is unreliable or not relevant, the court should refuse to take it into account- otherwise this could produce an unfair sentence (i.e. heavier sentence). Sometimes, such evidence is still allowed by the court if there is no objection made to it.

A good switched on criminal lawyer will be able to object to such evidence to ensure that a fair sentence is achieved, and where possible to reduce the sentence for the client.

On the other hand, the prosecution will often try to produce evidence which may increase the sentence.

This is why we call our system an adversarial criminal justice system in Australia.

The overall duty of criminal lawyers is to assist the court in reaching an appropriate and fair outcome or sentence.

When acting for a client for sentence, a good criminal lawyer should produce all important relevant evidence in their clients favour to the court, which can significantly reduce the ultimate sentence.

The court will not be able to reach a fair sentence outcome unless it is made aware of all relevant and important pieces of evidence in favour and against the offender- a switched on criminal lawyer is crucial here.

This involves a criminal lawyer informing the court as to his/her client’s side of the story, and using the right method and form of evidence for it to be taken into account to its full extent.

A lawyers’ job also involves outlining to the court any reasons that contributed to his/her client’s offending conduct, and what he/she is doing to take steps towards rehabilitation to prevent this from recurring.

This may involve gathering good character letters for court, expert reports (i.e. psychologist report), and an apology letter for the court etc.

Providing an explanation to the court, as opposed to a justification, for the offence provides insight that can allow a court to impose a more lenient sentence with the principles of sentencing in mind.

A sloppy criminal lawyer who doesn’t do his/her job properly can make a big difference in the end result, which can result in an unfair sentence to a client.

Is Being a Criminal Lawyer Dangerous?

Nearing two decades of experience, Criminal Defence Lawyer, Jimmy Singh gives us some insight into being a criminal lawyer and whether it really is a dangerous profession to be in.

There is a widespread perception, encouraged by movies and TV series, that criminal lawyers have dangerous jobs – however, this is largely dramatized.

Albeit rarely, criminal lawyers may face threats and intimidation from their own clients or other interested parties in proceedings.

Whilst this is not ideal, it is the reality of practicing in a high-pressure area of law, directly dealing with clients’ freedoms and the high stakes associated.

Clients may threaten or verbally abuse their legal representatives in heated moments; however, these outbursts remain largely verbal, presenting no real danger.

A large part of being a criminal lawyer is being able to communicate effectively with clients to manage their expectations and ensure they are fully informed at all stages of proceedings.

This significantly helps ameliorate risk of backlash, as clients are not left frustrated and wondering what is happening. It also builds mutual trust and respect on the one hand, whilst on the other hand, it also reduces client’s stress and anxiety levels from what is otherwise a very difficult period of time in their life.

It is also important for criminal lawyers to recognise that many of their clients may be experiencing mental health issues, and for them to be able to refer resources and programs to help address this.

Honesty, transparency, and good communication skills are the foundations of a good criminal lawyer. These fundamentals will almost ensure an absence of any aggression or intimidation by clients”, says Jimmy Singh.

Furthermore, tragic cases have occurred in which criminal lawyers have become involved in criminal activities themselves, enforcing the importance of remaining professional at all times.

In 2018, criminal lawyer Ho Ledinh was shot three times in the back, and killed, outside the Happy Cup cafe at Bankstown City Plaza in broad daylight.

The gunman, Arthur Keleklio was sentenced to at least 20 years 3 months imprisonment, with Abraham Sinai, the man who planned the hit and aided Keleklio, sentenced to at least 22 years and six months imprisonment.

Upon sentence, Justice Robert Allan Hulme noted that there was insufficient evidence to establish a definitive motive.

However, Ledinh’s wife provided evidence that he co-owned the Happy Cup with a “big drug dealer” with the café utilised to launder money for the alleged syndicate.

She explained that at times Ledinh would assist in acting as a debt collector, however, fell into financial difficulties and sold the café whilst the alleged co-owner was in custody, retaining the total proceeds of the sale.

“It seems, however, to have been common ground that the murder had something to do with Mr Ledinh’s association with persons involved in quite serious criminality.” concluded Justice Hulme.

In recent times, the Government has identified the need for stronger protections to be in place for criminal defence lawyers.

The main impetus for this move was reported findings by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission that three police officers had engaged in deliberate harassment of a criminal defence lawyer.

The LECC found that the solicitor was targeted by officers, after he denied a request for a police officer on restricted duties to give evidence via an audio-visual link during a hearing.

The lawyer was representing a defendant alleged to be a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang and charged by officers from Strike Force Raptor with five counts of animal cruelty.

On 28 May 2019, when the matter was first listed for hearing, officers targeted the acting solicitor at various points before and after court.

This included following him from outside his house, prior to court and issuing him with traffic infringements for not indicating when reversing his driveway, and not carrying his licence.

Officers also issued him with defect notices for faults relating to oil leaks, seat belt defects and window tinting, and were spotted ‘doing laps’ outside the lawyer’s office, upon his arrival.

At court, the solicitor explained what had happened to him to the Magistrate and sought an adjournment, which was granted by the Magistrate as “she could see that [he] was shaken up”.

As he left the court, up to ten officers waited outside, with the solicitor so intimidated that he went back inside the court and asked the Magistrate if he could take the rear exit.

These details were not disputed by the officers involved, even stating in their own evidence that they had been taken to the town to ‘target’ the defence lawyer.

One officer had even sought to place a bet that: “he doesn’t make it to court.”

NSW Attorney General, Mark Speakman noted that criminal defence lawyers are frontline workers of the justice system and need to be protected as such.

“Defence lawyers support those key tenets of justice by putting the prosecution to proof. It is important that defence lawyers are free from threats, intimidation, and reprisals, to uphold their duties to the court, the justice system and to their clients.” he explained.

In NSW, it is now a specific offence to assault or threaten a criminal defence lawyer.

As per section 322 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), it is an offence to cause injury or detriment, or threaten to do so, to any person, whilst intending to influence a person’s conduct as a lawyer acting for a defendant in a criminal matter, or in connection with criminal proceedings.

It is also an offence to cause injury or detriment, or threaten to do so, to any person on account of anything lawfully done by a person as a lawyer acting for a defendant in a criminal matter, or in connection with criminal proceedings, without reasonable excuse, as per section 326.

The Act provides that a reasonable excuse includes where a person ends, or threatens to end, a retainer, and where a person makes, or threatens to make a complaint about a lawyer to a professional body such as the NSW Legal Services Commissioner.

These offences are also applicable to a witness or juror, a judicial officer, and a public justice official.

A maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable to both offences, where the matter is dealt with in the District Court.

Both offences are classified as ‘table 1’ offences, as per schedule 1 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW), which means that the prosecution or the defence may elect to have the matter dealt with on indictment in the District Court.

If no election is made, the proceedings will remain to be dealt with in the Local Court, where the court is limited to imposing a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and/or a $11,000 fine.

However, where an offence is committed under section 322 with intent to procure the conviction or acquittal of any person of a serious indictable offence (i.e., any offence punishable by imprisonment for a term of 5 years or more), the matter is required to proceed to the District Court.

In this case, a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment is applicable.

Published on 28/12/2021

AUTHOR Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia are Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

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