‘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.
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.