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Barrister’s Ethical Issue of Defending a Guilty

Case Summary

Charlie, a barrister is called to court to represent Lucy who has been charged with murder. Lucy shot her friend Sally after discovering that she was having an affair with her boyfriend, Franklin. The crime was heinous and Lucy is known for being involved in organized crime. Charlie does not like Lucy and thinks that the way in which she lives her life is wrong and immoral. He did not want to take the case but did so reluctantly. Charlie goes and meets Lucy down in the cells. During the conference, Lucy informs him that she is guilty but she wishes to plead not guilty.

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Case Analysis

In analyzing the case of Lucy, it is important to start with a brief review of the rights and duties of each person as presented. First, it is clear that Lucy has committed murder and should be tried for her crime in court. In addition, Lucy is known to have been involved in organized crime in the past, which means that she is likely to have planned to kill Sally. Moreover, when killing Sally, Lucy had an intention and motive, given that she wanted to eliminate the victim to stop the deceased’s affair with Franklin.

Nevertheless, Lucy is a citizen with full rights, including the right for legal presentation, regardless of the crime committed. In addition, the specific case involves the murder of Sally and not any other crime that Lucy might have committed in the past. As a reasonable person, Lucy is not expected to plead guilty even though she committed the crime. On his side, Charlie has the information that Lucy is a criminal and it is probable that she committed the crime. Furthermore, Lucy confesses to Charlie that she committed the crime, but she does not want to plead guilty. Charlie has the right to refuse to represent Lucy and pass the duty to any other barrister.

Based on this review, it is clear that some ethical and professional issues arise from the scenario and which affects Charlie, the barrister in this case. The first ethical question is whether Charlie should represent Lucy unwillingly, given his knowledge of her criminal and immoral life. The second question is whether Charlie should withhold or reveal Lucy’s confession that she committed the crime. The third issue is to determine whether it is ethically and professionally right for Charlie to represent a person show knows must have committed the crime and lie to the court that she is innocent.

The BSB Code of Conduct outlines the core duties that every person acting as a barrister should always observe. According to the BSB Code of Conduct, a barrister must always observe his or her duty to the court in the process of administering justice1. Secondly, the barristers are required to act honesty and integrity in their work at all times. Third, the barristers must always maintain their independence. Furthermore, individuals acting as lawyers on behalf of others in court must protect and maintain the faith and trust that the public has in them. Moreover, they must keep always keep information about their clients confidential2. They are also required to act for the interest of those they represent. Finally, the document prohibits discrimination of any person by lawyers and others acting on their behalf.

In the case of Charlie, it should be assumed that he has forgone his right to avoid representing Lucy as he has already taken steps to have a conference with her in the cells. Therefore, he is expected to represent her fully in the case as any other client, regardless of his perceptions towards her lifestyle and criminal past. Having taken this into consideration, the BSB Code of Conduct should apply and Charlie must comply with the requirements. Therefore, Charlie has all the listed duties of a barrister in the Code of Conduct throughout the trial of Lucy.

As a lawyer, Charlie needs to consider the concept of integrity in handling the matter. As the BSB Code of Conduct states, Charlie must now act with integrity and honesty3. This means that he must use his professional knowledge and skills to defend Lucy in the trial regardless of the fact that he is well aware of Lucy’s crime. Charlie must ensure that he fully stands in place of Lucy and argues the case for the best interest of the accused. Secondly, Charlie is bound by the duty to maintain his independence throughout the case. This means that he is independent of acting as a witness in the case even though he knows Lucy’s past crimes and is aware that she killed Sally. Noteworthy, Charlie is an independent professional in the case and should not be compelled by the prosecutor to state what he knows about Lucy and her crimes.

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Furthermore, Charlie is bound by the duty to keep the affairs of the client confidential at all times. Noteworthy, his knowledge of Lucy’s potential to commit a crime of this nature should remain concealed. In fact, he cannot consider Lucy’s potential to commit as a basis for allowing the prosecutor to use it as evidence. In the same manner, the barrister must keep Lucy’s secret the confession that she killed Sally with an intention to keep the deceased out of Frank’s life.4 In essence, he should act as if he does not know Lucy’s past life and crime and should also work as if he is representing an innocent person. The rule of discrimination, as outlined in the BSB Code of Conduct, compels Charlie to avoid discriminating Lucy improperly in relation to her past behavior5. Even though Charlie does not like Lucy and he knows that she leads an immoral life that should not be tolerated in the society, he must not use this knowledge to discriminate against her improperly. In essence, the BSB Code of Conduct sets out the rules that require the protection of the rights of the accused, regardless of the nature of her crimes6. Indeed, it is the duty of the prosecutor and the state to find as much evidence as possible against Lucy and not compel Charlie to incriminate her.

Apart from the BSB Code of Conduct, other legal sources play an important role in ensuring that a person acting in the capacity of a lawyer or barrister in such a case acts for the best interest of the client. Under the Human Rights Act 1998, Article 6 states that the accused has the right to defend her and the right to legal representation7. Moreover, the accused have the right to avoid saying things that might incriminate themselves, including being forced to talk as a way of incriminating themselves. Therefore, this law compels Charlie to act in the best interest of Lucy and should not behave in a manner that can incriminate her. In addition, this legislation makes it necessary for Charlie to ensure that he defends Lucy to the level best even though he is aware that she has committed the crime.

Some case laws also provide for the full representation of Lucy and protection of her privacy. In Rondel v. Worsley, the ruling pointed out that a lawyer or attorney has the most important duty to the court, standards of his or her profession, and the public, but which can be in conflict with the interests of the client8. Similarly, in the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, it is the duty of the barristers to act in the best interest of the client and to provide a proper standard of service to the clients9. In essence, it requires the barristers to keep the affairs of all clients’ confidence unless disclosure is necessary or permitted by the law. In the same manner, Section 1(3)(e) of the Legal Services Act 2007 states that the affairs of clients should always remain confidential10. Consequently, Lucy’s past affairs and crimes must remain confidential and Charlie should not reveal the information to anybody.

In conclusion, it is evident that the existing rules, laws, and codes of conduct demonstrate that Charlie has the duty to fully represent Lucy, act for her interests, and ensure that the information she gives him is not disclosed to the court and the prosecutor. In this case, Charlie should make sure that he does not discriminate against Lucy based on his dislike for her and the knowledge of her past crimes. This implies that Lucy is a client to Charlie with all the rights given to her, including the right to plead not guilty and have full legal representation by Charlie. Therefore, Charlie should ensure that he represents the best interest and does not use his knowledge about Lucy to incriminate her in court.


Gillespie, A. and Weare, S. The English Legal System. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2019.


  1. Gillespie, A., and S Weare, The English Legal System, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2019, p.23.
  2. Gillespie and Weare, 23.
  3. Gillespie and Weare, 27.
  4. Gillespie and Weare, 34.
  5. Gillespie and Weare, 32.
  6. Gillespie and Weare, 47.
  7. Gillespie and Weare, 37.
  8. Gillespie and Weare, 52.
  9. Gillespie and Weare, 58.
  10. Gillespie and Weare, 59.

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