Criminal Defence Law and My Inspiration

Criminal Defence Law and My Inspiration

Sometimes snapshots from the past creep up on us at unexpected times. Sometimes they are bright pictures that make us smile; at other times they remind us of something that made us who we are. I recently had one of those latter snapshots.

In 1998 I was writing my Bar admission exams in Toronto. Two days before one of my exams my mother died, and I flew out West for her funeral. While my brother and sister ran errands, I went through a stack of my mother’s books, some of which I had never seen before. My mother had a mind that was as bright and curious as a starling, her interests eclectic and sometimes unpredictable.

Her books were a fascinating collection. In amongst recipe books, spy novels, books of history and folklore, there was a book of Hasidic Jewish writings. It was that book that told me with absolute certainty that criminal defence law was my calling, my path and my destiny.

I was tired. Tired from the stress and demands of exams, tired from trying to figure out my path, tired from grief over losing my mother. I was experiencing a period of self-doubt about where I belonged in law. The slender volume I found in my hand erased all doubts. The book – which was almost new – seemed to fall open at a story about a Rabbi, and his wife.

The Rabbi’s wife, so the story said, discovered one day that some of her jewelry was missing. She was convinced it had been stolen by her young maid. The young woman tearfully denied it, but the Rabbi’s wife was determined that she be tried by the Rabbinical court. On the morning set for the hearing the Rabbi’s wife saw her husband putting on his Rabbinical vestments, getting ready to go to court.

“What are you doing?” she said. “I don’t need your help at court.”

“You don’t”, said the Rabbi, “but that young girl who is your maid does, and who but I will speak for her?”

And in that moment, that moment of grief, and weariness and uncertainty, I knew that all I wanted to do in law was speak for people who have no voice. That’s what we do as defence lawyers. We speak for the voiceless, the marginalized, the people who sometimes feel as though they are disposable human beings. We speak clearly, and forcefully, doing all we can to ensure that when the State has seemingly unlimited voices speaking out against our clients, they at least have us, representing them as strongly and passionately as we can.

There have been many, many times in my career where clients have thanked me for being their voice, for saying what they could not.

On days when I am tired, or overwhelmed, that snapshot from my brother’s home comes back to me and stokes the fires in my belly yet again.

“Who but I will speak for them?”

I can think of no higher calling.

Ruth Roberts, Criminal Defence Lawyer

Bonn Law, Trenton/Belleville, ON