Criminal Defence Solicitor, Laura Baumanis, considers the recent Eastenders storyline and whether it accurately portrays the role of a criminal defence solicitor
Like many viewers across the country, I was happily sat watching Eastenders this week when Jay Brown was arrested and the story of his unfortunate liaisons with his 14 year old girlfriend began to unfold. Almost immediately my social media accounts went into overdrive as numerous lawyer friends began to blast the storyline and the outrageous way his case progressed. One promised to venture to London to ensure that justice was done for the poor, albeit fictional, young man.
So what was it about the plot that caused such dismay? We could deal, first of all, with the speed in which Jay was arrested. Seemingly moments after his girlfriend’s mother had called the police they were knocking at his door, allowing little time for the video interview that would need to take place with his ‘victim’, as well as other witnesses to the relationship. In fact, there was no suggestion that the girl in question ever gave a formal statement or made a complaint to the police. Jay was still, however, arrested, and placed in a police cell over night.
It was the behaviour of the solicitors and the police that perhaps caused the most upset and was the furthest from the reality of these situations. Ritchie, the Mitchell’s long-suffering solicitor, attends for the briefest period of time, supposedly as a favour to her favourite clients. She does not try and hide the disdain she has for Jay and the allegations that he faces. Stating simply that he has been caught bang to rights and needs to do the right thing and admit his guilt, she leaves, advising that she does not deal with paedophiles. He doesn’t provide her with any instructions, she doesn’t advise him of any possible defences based on those instructions. She simply exits as soon as possible and suggests that the only legal advice he can have is the duty solicitor, the intonation in her voice inferring the contempt that she holds for those in acting in that capacity.
What does a ‘Duty Solicitor’ do?
Perhaps, however, the contempt she exhibits is wholly appropriate given the glimpses we see of this poor ‘duty’ solicitor, who sits in the interview as Jay is berated by officers, guilted into admitting an offence that he clearly does not accept he has committed, and fails to properly identify any defences Jay may have. He had no idea that the images were of a 14 year old girl. Upon realising her age he deleted said images. These important factors are entirely overlooked. In Court, nothing appears to be said on his behalf. It would seem that he appears wholly unrepresented, despite appearing from custody. The useless duty solicitor is nowhere to be seen, and Jay pleads guilty. When sentencing the Magistrates accept that Jay did not know that the images were of someone under the age of 18, and ye,t rather than suggest that the guilty pleas be set aside, he is sentenced. The sentence itself is not noteworthy, but the way the case was dealt with by defence solicitors from start to finish was, quite frankly, appalling .
Yes, this is a fictional programme. Yes, Jay Brown is played by an actor who hasn’t been sentenced to five years on the Sex Offenders Register and, yes, a more faithful account of what would happen in these scenarios would perhaps make less exciting viewing. But anyone watching that programme must have wondered what a duty solicitor does and would be fearful of ever asking for one should they ever fall foul of the law. Of course, this story line highlights how important it is to have proper legal advice from the start.
Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Criminal Defence
Had Jay requested Olliers he wouldn’t have been spoken to with such contempt for the situation he had found himself in. He would have been advised properly on the evidence and then had his instructions taken fully, without judgement and without derision. He would have been advised appropriately on what defences he had and what he should (or should not) be saying in interview. The Officer would not have been able to place such pressure on him to plead guilty during questioning without a solicitor intervening. Representations would have been made as regards bail had he still been charged to avoid him appearing before the Court in custody, and in Court he would have been represented fully. He would not have pleaded guilty and, in all probability, he would have been acquitted in due course.
Fortunately for Jay, this is not real life, but for many who do not seek appropriate representation at an early stage this can become a reality.
Laura Baumanis – Specialist Criminal Defence Solicitor
Written by Laura Baumanis. Laura is a highly experienced Magistrates’ Court advocate appearing in Courts across the North-West on a daily basis. She boasts an impressive acquittal rate and prides herself on the level of service she affords to each and every client.