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A question of character

Jeannie Mackie debates the value of character disclosure

13 February 2012

Judging whether to put your client’s character before the jury is always a tricky task for a defence advocate. Sometimes the decision makes itself: if there has been a bad character application, or the conduct of the defence is such that the crown will inevitably apply to do it, then it is much better to bite the bullet and get the client to stumble through the sorry tale himself. His explanation of his past, freely given, gives a somewhat better impression than a prosecutor’s lip-smacking renumeration of his misdeeds – although one must take care to avoid the two pitfalls of this voluntary disclosure. The first is a client who stoutly maintains his innocence of previous convictions: variants of ‘it was only a common assault’ and ‘that jury got it well wrong’ tend to go down badly. The second is blithely embarking on a trawl through the past convictions without checking they are both accurate and completely up to date. Behind bars once witnessed a young advocate make j...

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