There is no singular blueprint outlining the job description for a Criminal Lawyer due to the broad nature of the profession and the immensity of criminal law itself. There are several different types of solicitor who work in the field of criminal law, which we explore below:
A Criminal Defence Solicitor helps someone who is suspected or charged with a crime, ensuring that their legal rights are upheld and that they are given a fair trial by presenting their case in court.
Although a Criminal Defence Lawyer role is varied, typical duties include:
• Representing defendants in all stages of a criminal prosecution, from police investigation to presenting their case in court as an advocate
• Providing advice to clients via telephone and in person
• Reviewing documentation related to an offence and the case (including witness statements, police reports, forensic reports, medical records etc)
• Researching, planning and investigating matters
• Visiting prisons and police stations to liaise with defendants
• Drafting legal documents
• Establishing a complete, accurate and compelling defence for the accused
Another type of Criminal Defence Lawyer is a Criminal Duty Solicitor. Duty Solicitors represent individuals suspected or accused of a crime in situations where the defendant does not have access to a solicitor, whether in police custody or otherwise. Their services are pro-bono (free of charge) because they are paid by the Legal Services Commission, the government body that administers Legal Aid.
Criminal Duty Solicitors are neither employed by courts or the police force. They work for a panel of Solicitors to ensure that the legal rights of the accused are upheld. A Duty Solicitor may assist individuals under arrest / detained at a police station or appear alongside them for their first hearing in court. They cannot help if the accused has a solicitor already, is facing trial or is charged with a criminal offence that does not result in imprisonment.
Key Responsibilities of a Duty Solicitor:
• Observing the legal rights of an offender
• Explaining what could happen with the case
• Providing guidance and advice to the accused
• Discussing whether evidence is strong enough to charge the accused
• Supporting the accused by challenging evidence against them and interviewing witnesses to support their case
• Ensuring a fair hearing is provided if a case goes to court
A Prosecution Lawyer or Crown Prosecutor has the responsibility of presenting the case against those accused of a crime. They are employed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is a government department.
The role of a Prosecution Lawyer differs from a Defendant Lawyer, not just in who they represent, but because they are responsible for deciding whether to prosecute the accused and take a case to court. The duties of a Prosecution Lawyer involve:
• Examining police evidence and deciding whether to progress criminal proceedings
• Working closely with teams of caseworkers and administrative staff
• Communicating with the police, probation services and other law enforcement and criminal justice agencies
• Liaising with court staff and Criminal Defence Solicitors
• Communicating with victims of the crime
• Ensuring that the treatment of criminal offenders is fair
• Presenting the case against the defendant in court
• Advising and instructing court counsel
Whether you are a Criminal Defence or Prosecution Lawyer, you need to be able to make decisions without any prejudice, to argue the case effectively and to ensure that all relevant facts are presented to the court. Find out about the other skills required to be a Criminal Lawyer in the next section.