Acknowledging the Faces Behind Criminal Law

by Ruth Roberts

This is a blog about blogs, specifically my blog and why I choose the things I write about. I think it’s important to explain why; even though I write blogs as a criminal defence lawyer, law is rarely one of my topics.

Criminal law is evolving almost daily. Judges make decisions about interpretations of the law, parliamentarians bring in new legislation, and sometimes situations get ahead of the law, and all the players in the justice system have to scramble to adjust to new dynamics. It's fascinating, and challenging – and frequently reported in the news.

What usually doesn’t make it into the news is the direct impact of the law on ordinary people: the accused and their families, the victims, and everyone involved in criminal law. Including the lawyers.

These are the people I like to write about. In life before law school I was a writer, and worked as a news reporter. It is always the human faces behind the stories that fascinate me.

Stories about people charged with drug offences, or victims of crime, or new laws are all over the Internet and news media. But these stories are only one piece of a much larger picture. Is the person charged with a drug offence an addict, dealing drugs to support their own habit? Is the person who assaulted someone in need of mental health assistance they have been unable to obtain?

Is a new law one that will survive a Charter challenge, and how will that affect people?

It is all too easy to see criminal law in black and white: this is the law, this person broke it, they should receive this sentence. But we don’t live our lives in black and white. We live our lives in glorious colour, nuanced and shaded and ambiguous and constantly changing. Criminal law must be viewed in this context.

Look on the Internet, and you’ll see countless stories about court cases.

What you will not see is the grief, hope and courage, struggle and fear, and sometimes redemption of those who are before the courts.

You will not see the strength and commitment and dedication of the lawyers, both Crown and Defence, who care deeply about what they do. You won’t see the hearts of the warriors, who fight and work, worry and lose sleep, and sometimes celebrate their cases.

These are the things that shape our lives and our laws, and help define us a society. These are the things that are important.

When you read my blogs I hope that for a moment, you step outside the headlines, and inside my world. And that you understand a little more, forgive a little more, and appreciate the wonderful, messy, important lives of the people I work with. And why they are what I choose to write about.