‘Ev­ery­one de­serves a sec­ond chance’

How do you de­fend someone ac­cused of mur­der? A crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter tells chief re­porter Jess Etheridge you just have to fo­cus on the ev­i­dence.

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

Even the most hard­ened crim­i­nals are vul­ner­a­ble and de­serve a fair trial, John Munro says.

The bar­ris­ter of 14 years spe­cialises in the crim­i­nal de­fence side of the jus­tice sys­tem, from mur­der tri­als to traf­fic tick­ets.

Munro, 42, stud­ied law at the Univer­sity of Auck­land and prac­tises along­side six other spe­cial­ists at Auck­land’s Sentinel Chambers on Vic­to­ria St West.

From a woman who was al­legedly as­saulted by po­lice to a teen ac­cused of man­slaugh­ter, Munro has al­most seen it all.

He has dealt with some ‘‘ab­so­lute pigs’’ and has some­times been threat­ened. Stay­ing calm is key, he says. Build­ing a com­pelling case to give ev­ery per­son a fair go is dif­fi­cult on the lim­ited le­gal aid sys­tem, he says. Since March 2012, le­gal aid for crim­i­nal cases has been paid on a fixed-fee ba­sis rather than an hourly rate.

Crown pros­e­cu­tion teams have po­lice, foren­sics spe­cial­ists and se­nior de­tec­tives at their dis­posal but pri­vate firms of­ten strug­gle, Munro says.

Foren­sics tests for a de­fence case can cost up­wards of $10,000.

De­fen­dants can be some of the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in so­ci­ety and rely on lawyers to fight for them.

‘‘I’m of­ten asked ‘ how can you act for someone who you think is guilty?’

‘‘We need to en­sure as a so­ci­ety that we don’t go down that track of ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’.’’

Munro says he’s learned not to form an opin­ion on someone’s guilt and al­ways refers back to the ev­i­dence.

Tak­ing work home – some­times af­ter a 17 hour day – is part of the job. There are court notes, ev­i­dence and the next day’s ar­gu­ments to read over.

The goal is al­ways to get peo­ple back into the com­mu­nity if pos­si­ble, rather than lock­ing them up.

One youth Munro rep­re­sented beat and robbed a man for a phone and $20. He had a clean his­tory and got off lightly. He en­rolled in a car­pen­try course and set­tled down with his part­ner and child.

Ev­ery­one de­serves chance, Munro says.




Still ex­cit­ing: West­mere res­i­dent John Munro has been a prac­tis­ing crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter for 14 years.

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