No funds no defence

I fundamentally disagree with most of Mike Dailly's article on public defenders (The Lawyer, 29 July 1997).

It would take up too much space in your journal to set out my objections in full, and in any event there are many far more able than me who will want to do so.

However, there are just two small but fundamental flaws on which I feel I must comment.

Any comparison with the Dutch system is like comparing chalk with cheese.

The Netherlands has a vastly greater police presence in its cities, thus cutting down crime itself; it has much greater involvement of independent legal advice for suspects when they are arrested; and perhaps most importantly of all, it has a diversionary system (thus avoiding people being charged) which should be the envy of the rest of the world.

Of course, it also has an inquisitorial system, as opposed to our accusatorial one. All of this costs a lot of money. It is only after they are in place and properly funded can one seriously talk about reducing the costs per capita of criminal legal aid.

While I believe there are fundamental objections to the public defender system, even if they could be overcome, the reality is that throughout the world where they are used (with the possible exception of the Netherlands, although I am not sure), they are so chronically underfunded that the reality is that they cannot do their job properly and very often defendants who stand to lose their liberty, livelihood and their families are not remotely properly represented against the bottomless funding pit of the state.

Steven Jonas

George Jonas & Co.