x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Death penalty defence lawyers 'fail clients'

Lawyers representing defendants facing the death penalty or life sentences need to be better trained, Judicial Department officials have told lawyers.

ABU DHABI //Lawyers who represent defendants facing the death penalty or life sentences need to be better trained, Judicial Department officials have told lawyers.

In a meeting last week, the Judicial Department said defendants who could not afford to hire a lawyer were not being adequately represented. The discussion was designed to highlight two issues that officials said contributed to the problem: low payment for court-appointed lawyers and the system of rotation in selecting them.

Lawyers said the department should choose attorneys for poor defendants according to each lawyer's credentials and specialised area, not simply their availability. The discrepancy between the money they could earn from private clients and what the department paid them was large, they added.

"We would like to have a balance," said Ali Mandoor, an Egyptian lawyer. "All [court-appointed] lawyers are almost given the same amount of money; the judge who presides over the case should be the one who evaluates the performance of the lawyer and should order a payment accordingly."

But the issue of lawyers, especially those appointed by the court, presenting poor defences has been a frequent topic in all levels of the judiciary. In some cases, lawyers have failed to attend their clients' trials.

A court official said last week that prosecutors were questioning at least three lawyers on corruption allegations. One of the lawyers was accused of selling his clients' documents to the opposing lawyer.

Last month the Justice Ministry denied licence renewal for "a number" of practising lawyers because of poor performance, according to the state news agency, WAM.

In one case, a judge rebuked a court-appointed lawyer for not realising DNA evidence had been presented against his client. The lawyer, representing FS, a Pakistani, said there was no evidence of sexual assault against his client. The judge told him there was DNA evidence that corroborated the assault.

"How do you rate yourself in terms of ethics?" Chief Justice Saeed Abdul Baseer asked him. "As a defence lawyer, you should have studied the papers well."

FS was sentenced to death for murder last week in addition to a three-year prison term for raping a 26-year-old Pakistani man.

Last week, Mr Abdul Baseer told a lawyer to stop reading his defence because the judge "could just read it".

In July, legal officials said lawyers who failed to turn up in courts were damaging their clients' interests, wasting court time and putting a strain on the judicial system in Abu Dhabi.

A pregnant woman serving life in prison for drug smuggling saw her appeal delayed in July three times because her lawyer failed to appear. In another case, a lawyer who was paid Dh10,000 to represent a man jailed for forgery has never appeared in court.

Jamila al Niyadi, the head of the Ministry of Justice committee that deals with complaints against lawyers, said her panel received 20 complaints last month alone, and two lawyers had been referred to the Public Prosecution for failing to represent their clients.