No such thing as 'guilty plea culture'

Criminal lawyers vigorously denied the existence of a “guilty plea culture” and rebutted suggestions that they failed to act in the best interests of clients.

Delegates at the conference heard Lee Bridges, author of Standing Accused, paint a picture of poor quality defence work.

But the criminal specialists said it would not make financial sense to encourage clients to plead guilty.

Stephen Wedd, of Harper Daniel Wedd, Brighton, said: “My business is based on recommendations. I wouldn't get any work if I was operating within a guilty plea culture.”

Bridges warned solicitors that the training programme for police station advisers might not go far enough.

“Unless training is continually reinforced within an organisation, the positive effects soon wear off and disappear,” he said. He added that the whole culture of criminal defence work would need to change if the training was to have anything other than a short-term and limited effect.

Rosemary Thomson, chair of the Magistrates Association, said there was a huge lack of public understanding of how the judicial system worked and the association planned a campaign next year to “let people know what we do”.

John Harding, director general of the probation service, said former Home Secretary John Patten had been an “unlikely hero” but much of his good work had since been undone.

Richard Wells, South Yorkshire's chief constable, said different agencies should crawl out of their trenches and put aside the feeling of “Oh what a lovely war”.