Good News, Bad News is the latest in Best Defence series by WHS McIntyre and again features defence lawyer Robbie Munro. It will published by Sandstone Press this Thursday 20th April. It will be available at all good bookshops or you can order a copy online here. Today I have an extract from the book for you and the chance to win a copy. First of all, here’s what the book is about:
Life’s full of good news and bad news for defence lawyer Robbie Munro. Good news is he’s in work, representing Antionia Brechin on a drugs charge unfortunately she’s the granddaughter of notorious Sheriff Brechin. His old client Ellen has won the lottery and she’s asked Robbie to find her husband Freddy who’s disappeared after swindling Jake Turpie, but he’s not willing to bury the hatchet unless it’s in Freddy’s head. Robbie juggles cases and private life with his usual dexterity, but the more he tries to fix things the more trouble everyone’s in.
For your chance to win a copy of the book courtesy of the publishers, click the link below. You can enter until midnight on Thursday 20th April and the winner will be notified within 24 hours. UK entrants only please.
And now for the extract, in which Robbie Munro is involved in an interesting exchange with Sheriff Albert Brechin about whether his client is guilty of assault or not.
The most common question asked of a criminal defence lawyer is: how can you possibly defend someone you think is guilty?
Top answer, most people think, is money, and it does definitely help. However, the fact is that most defence lawyers are interested in justice, and most clients have the decency not to say if they are guilty. Often it’s the guilty ones who sound the most innocent and come up with the best lines of defence. Some of them have had a lot of practice. What’s important for defence agents is not to prejudge the issue; there are enough people doing that already.
So I like to respond to that question with another question. How is it that a prosecutor can seek to convict someone he or she may think, and indeed, must presume by law, to be innocent? That was a question you heard asked about as often as you heard Sheriff Albert Brechin putting ‘not’ and ‘guilty’ together in the same sentence.
‘It was an assault, Mr Munro. Plain and simple. Did you not hear the evidence of the two witnesses? Are you deaf as well as…’
‘As well as what, M’Lord?’
Sheriff Brechin put a hand under the front of his yellowed, horse-hair wig, scratched whatever it was that lived under there, and looked down at me from the Bench. ‘As well as extremely stubborn. When will you realise that it doesn’t matter how long you stand there addressing me, the facts of the case remain unalterable. Your client struck—’
‘There you have it then! You admit it yourself.’
‘A slap from my client does not necessarily amount to an assault.’
The Sheriff sat up straight, raised his right eyebrow an inch and his voice an octave. ‘Really? Since when?’ The day Bert Brechin was appointed Sheriff of the Sheriffdom of Lothian & Borders, was the day the theatre world missed out on a fine pantomime dame. ‘Has someone changed the definition of assault and not told me? It is still defined as an attack by one individual upon another with evil intent, is it not?’ Brechin glanced around, as though some legal messenger might arrive hotfoot from Parliament House with news of a change to the law.
‘Yes, it’s still the same,’ I said, ‘and that’s why I’m certain your Lordship will take my point.’
‘Point?’ Brechin’s left eyebrow caught up with the right, both threatening to disappear somewhere under the fringe of his wig. ‘Point? I didn’t realise you had a point, Mr Munro. It’s most unlike you.’
‘My point, M’Lord, is evil intent and the distinct absence of it in this case.’ I stepped to the side to allow the Sheriff a better look at the young woman in the dock. Heather Somerville was a student teacher, one week off her twenty-third birthday, two away from graduation and six from her wedding. One Saturday afternoon, a couple of months previously, Heather had arranged to meet her fiancé and go shopping. When he hadn’t shown up at the allotted time she’d gone looking for him, and, with her woman’s intuition requiring only to be placed on a low setting, had tracked him to the pub where he was watching a game of football with his mates. There had been an argument. He’d called her a nag. She’d slapped his face. The barmaid had ejected the pair of them and phoned the police.
Subsequently, and on him apologising to her, the two had kissed, made up and considered the matter closed. Not so the Scottish Justice System. It was clearly an act of domestic violence. As such it fell to be dealt with under the prevailing zero tolerance policy on such matters.
Heather Somerville had been arrested and held in custody. After a weekend pacing a police cell, she had appeared in court late on the Monday afternoon. A conviction for assault would spell disaster for her future career as a primary school teacher, and so on my advice she’d pled not guilty and opted to take her chances at trial.
Unfortunately, Heather’s boyfriend had been extremely helpful to the prosecution. That was the problem with dragging nice, law-abiding people to court. If you asked them to put their right hand up to God and swear an oath, they had the annoying habit of telling the truth, even if they’d rather not. Had her boyfriend been one of my regulars, asked to testify against his girl, there would have been a sudden and violent onset of amnesia at the mere sight of the witness box.
Of course, while it was bad news for some that the Crown insisted on prosecuting even the most trivial of relationship spats, there was good news for others. The silver lining to the leaden cloud of zero tolerance was an increase in prosecutions, and more prosecutions meant more work for me. No matter how much I despised zero tolerance policies, eventually I came to view them the way dentists viewed bags of boiled sweets: dead against them in principle; happy for the business.
I carried on. ‘M’Lord, the complainer, if you can call him that because he never actually complained about what happened, may have given evidence to say that he was slapped…’
Brechin snorted. ‘No may about it. He did say that. Precisely that.’
‘But he also said that he deserved it.’
‘No-one deserves to be slapped, Mr Munro.’
I could think of a few who did.