To practice law, particularly in a free and democratic country, is a privilege. However, there are times when our own perception of what a privilege it is, is more acute. This is one of them.
We have for more than a year faced necessary, but nevertheless significant, restrictions as humanity resisted the threat posed by a lethal virus. Many lost their lives as a result or are left with lasting physical and mental illness.
As humanity fought Covid 19, lawyers’ offices closed, clients could not meet face to face with their lawyers, and juries could not be empanelled or cases tried. Judges and lawyers worked together to use technology to keep the system going. Now it appears that we are out the other side.
However, this is a time when we trial lawyers need to fight to have the justice system fully restored. Many are speaking of retaining remote or virtual hearings. By all means we should exploit technology to make the system more efficient but not at the expense of fundamental values. One of those must surely be the right to physically confront and cross examine your opponent? Another, must be the entitlement to physically confront the judge and jurors who will decide your fate and look into their eyes rather than interact with a screen projecting a presence from some potentially unknown space?
And while we fight to preserve what we have got, others are fighting for their very lives in a country reduced to ruins by a war that shows complete disregard for the Rule of Law. There is no justification in International Law for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Higher, not lower, standards of behaviour are expected of a country that is a nuclear power. We as lawyers need to say that and say it often. We need to say that those who have reduced Ukraine to a theatre of war crimes must be pursued and punished no matter how long it takes or how much it costs.
It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the world has never depended more on honest men and women who demonstrate profound and balanced judgment and uphold the Rule of Law. That is why it is such a privilege to be one of those who practice law. Whether we confront Governments, Judges or our own clients we need to do that capably, with courage and with complete honesty. We must never pause and we must never stop.
Paul Streenan, SC President International Academy of Trial Lawyers