Queen's Counsel's Questions
Apparently, this isn't just an American invention. Across the pond, Nigel Poole, QC, felt compelled to speak out on behalf of his colleague, Kate Blackwell, for having cross-examined too well.
It seems necessary to give that defence of my profession because a fellow barrister from Manchester has found herself at the centre of a storm of protest as a result of what the trial judge called a perfectly proper cross-examination of a witness at a criminal trial. Tragically the witness, Frances Andrade, committed suicide some days after giving evidence. She had alleged that as a teenager she had been raped and indecently assaulted by a teacher and his then wife. The defendants were acquitted of rape but found guilty of some of the charges of indecent assault. Much public criticism and even personal abuse has been heaped on the barrister. It is no exaggeration to say that on Twitter the barrister seems to have received more adverse comment than the convicted defendants.
The case giving rise to the cross-examination was ugly, allegations of sexual abuse and rape as a young music student.
Her suicide was blamed on Blackwell's "harsh cross-examination." While no one, Poole included, can avoid feeling sorrow for the tragedy, blaming the barrister for having done her job is misguided.
Frances Andrade, a highly regarded violinist and past pupil at Chetham’s, took her own life last month after being subjected to harsh cross-examination during the trial of Michael Brewer, a former director of music at the school and an internationally recognised choirmaster. Mrs Andrade, 48 years old and a mother of four, had dreaded giving evidence against Brewer, whom she accused of raping her at the age of 18 and indecently assaulting her between the ages of 14 and 15. Brewer, 68, was cleared of rape but convicted on five counts of indecent assault. His former wife Kay, 68, was found guilty of indecently assaulting Mrs Andrade at the time of the alleged rape.
Barristers exist to represent clients - whether the client is the state, a company or an individual. They advise clients, usually at times of stress for them, and help them reach decisions about their cases. Barristers do have responsibilities to others as well but their core role is to act in the best interests of their clients. They must do so with integrity but fearlessly.
With integrity and fearlessly. Even in the United Kingdom, with a legal culture more mature than ours, the problem remains that people reject the concept of an adversary system where a lawyer's duty is to represent her client. Brewer was a despicable client. Andrade was a sympathetic victim. But once she committed suicide, Blackwell was worse than Brewer, having taken the sympathetic victim and driven her to suicide by challenging the allegations against her client. She could do nothing less, and yet she is now despised for it.
Echoing a theme that has appeared twice in the past day, by Mirriam Seddiq and Gideon at A Public Defender, Poole goes on:
Everyone is one false allegation away from being at a jury's mercy. Imagine you were accused of an offence from decades ago and that you believed your accuser was giving false evidence in court. It is their word against yours. What kind of justice would be served by your barrister refusing or failing to challenge that witness's evidence in the most effective way she can?
The frustration comes of people's inability to appreciate their stake in the integrity of the process, that their number could come up at any moment, and that they will come to appreciate that there is a person who will stand up for them, speak for them, challenge the allegations against them and be hated as much, maybe even more so, for standing in the way of public hatred. As hard as it may be to communicate this frustration in a theoretical sense, it's nothing compared to being the embodiment of misguided hatred.
Kate Blackwell did nothing more than what her duty demanded of her. As sad as it may be that Frances Andrade committed suicide following her testimony in the case, no blame can be place on Blackwell. This was her duty, and she did it with integrity and fearlessness. If your number is called, you will pray for the same.
H/T Antonin Pribetic