Judges rule on client accusations

Nick Hilborne

WHEN a defence barrister accused of acting improperly by his client seeks leave to withdraw from a criminal trial, the judge is not obliged to investigate the truth of the allegations, the Court of Appeal has held.

James Chadwin QC represented William Hunter, on trial for murder at Sheffield Crown Court. Evidence disclosed by the prosecution revealed that Hunter complained bitterly about the QC's conduct of the case, and accused him of being on the prosecution's side.

The Bar's code of conduct states that a barrister may withdraw from a case if his or her professional conduct is being impugned.

The judge allowed Chadwin to withdraw, but the trial proceeded, and Hunter was convicted. He appealed.

Lord Justice Kennedy was not attracted by the suggestion that Hunter, who had changed solicitors twice, should be allowed to justify the criticism of his barrister.

"There must be a relationship of mutual trust and confidence between client and barrister," says Christopher Sallon, chair of the Bar's public affairs committee.

"If the defendant feels aggrieved and the barrister thinks a working relationship is impossible, then he should withdraw.

"If a client tells a barrister to withdraw and the barrister refuses, the client has grounds for an appeal. Most judges are reluctant to allow barristers to withdraw, particularly when dealing with complex cases, but the judge is also under a duty to have regard to client's objections."

He adds: "If the client's lack of trust in his legal advisers becomes a pattern, however, he is unlikely to grant an adjournment, or a retrial."