The Thin Line: Ethics of Defending Heinous Criminals

The greediness of some lawyers, who are willing to accept large sums of money to defend cleared cross-border criminals and drug traffickers, can have negative consequences for society at large.

3 mins read
Representational graphic [Credit: Getty Image]

by Our Political Affairs Editor

A lawyer’s highest obligation is not to his client, but to the administration of justice.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Some lawyers in Sri Lanka are protesting, as they feel that the government is undermining their professionalism. This protest is also a testament to the usual scenario where human beings are so keen and enthusiastic about pointing at others, but it is hard for them to see themselves and address their conscience. We hope that they pay the taxes owed to the government, even for the payments received in cash. Let’s take the case in point.

The recent incident involving the arrest of two Sri Lankan-origin alleged criminals in Madagascar and their subsequent defence by leading lawyers in the country has sparked controversy and raised questions about the moral and ethical principles that lawyers should uphold. The fact that these alleged criminals are spending a significant portion of their black money to retain the services of these lawyers has only added fuel to the fire. According to reliable sources, one-fourth of their black money is being spent on lawyers.

While it is a fundamental right of every accused person to be represented by a lawyer, it is also the ethical responsibility of lawyers to ensure that they do not defend clients who are clearly guilty of heinous crimes. In this case, the law enforcement agencies have clear evidence to prove the allegations against the alleged criminals, and their defence by leading lawyers is, therefore, tantamount to obstructing justice and denying the victims their right to a fair trial. The fact that these alleged criminals are spending a significant amount of their black money to retain the services of these lawyers raises serious questions about the accountability of lawyers for their income. While it is true that lawyers have the right to earn a decent living, it is also their ethical responsibility to ensure that their income is earned in a morally and ethically acceptable manner.

The impact of this on the social justice of a society is also significant. By defending alleged criminals who are clearly guilty of heinous crimes, these lawyers are not only obstructing justice but also sending a message to other criminals that they can escape punishment by spending money on top lawyers. This undermines the rule of law and erodes public trust in the justice system. The recent case of another drug trafficker who was able to escape to India after being bailed out by a lawyer raises serious questions about the accountability of lawyers for their actions. The fact that the whole society is blaming the intelligence agencies for this incident only underscores the need for lawyers to act in a responsible and accountable manner.

The greediness of some lawyers, who are willing to accept large sums of money to defend cleared cross-border criminals and drug traffickers, can have negative consequences for society at large. By defending these criminals, they may be prolonging their criminal activities and enabling them to continue to harm individuals and communities. Additionally, the lawyers’ actions could contribute to a breakdown in the rule of law, as their defence of criminal activity undermines public trust in the justice system. Furthermore, their focus on the financial gain over justice can lead to a lack of representation for victims who cannot afford to pay for high-priced lawyers, which in turn perpetuates systemic inequalities in the justice system. Ultimately, it is crucial for lawyers to prioritize their ethical obligations to society and the justice system over their financial gain in order to ensure fairness and justice for all.

Tom Bingham, a renowned British judge and legal scholar, introduced eight key principles of the rule of law. These principles include accessibility and clarity of the law, equal application of the law regardless of status, consistency and predictability, protection of fundamental human rights, independence and impartiality of the judiciary, adequate resources for the efficient administration of justice, fair and transparent judicial processes, and upholding the rule of law by all branches of government. Upholding these principles is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the justice system and ensuring that justice is served for all individuals.

These principles are essential for ensuring that justice is served and that everyone, including lawyers and judges, is equal before the law. However, when leading lawyers defend criminals, as argued above, while victims have no money to pay for legal representation, it undermines these principles and harms the integrity of the justice system. When powerful criminals are able to hire top lawyers to defend them, they can often escape justice and continue to engage in criminal activity. This creates a two-tiered justice system where those with money and power are able to escape punishment while those without resources are left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It also erodes public trust in the justice system and creates a sense of cynicism and disillusionment among the general public. In order to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and justice is served, it is essential that all individuals have equal access to legal representation.

The recent incident involving the defence of alleged criminals by leading lawyers in Sri Lanka raises serious questions about the ethical principles that lawyers should uphold. It is essential that lawyers act in a responsible and accountable manner and ensure that their income is earned in a morally and ethically acceptable manner. This is essential for the preservation of the rule of law and the maintenance of public trust in the justice system. As Louis D. Brandeis, an American lawyer who served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, once underscored the importance of lawyers’ commitment to seeking and upholding the truth in their work, “The highest morality in the practice of law is to serve as a vehicle for the truth.”  Our question is clear: You may earn and become the richest of the rich, but at what cost in this short life?

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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