This weekend has seen an odd sort of charm offensive by the legal profession, in the wake of the Clayton Weatherston trial. There was this article: Judith Ablett-Kerr - fervent defender of justice for all. And then there was another, describing an email to Ablett-Kerr from an Anglican priest which was released to the media. The email, which described Weatherston's defence as abusive towards Sophie Elliot and her family, was 'ignorant and idiotic' according to Greg King, who assisted with Weatherston's defence.
The tenor of these articles seems to be that anything done by a defence lawyer, within the confines of the law, is not just OK but noble - it's in the defence of 'justice', after all. This view absolves the legal profession of any ethical responsibility for considering the consequences of their actions. Defence lawyers can plough ahead like careerist automatons - any abusive or victim-blaming argument is dignified simply because it occurs in the context of a courtroom. Judith Ablett-Kerr is quite smart enough to know that the victim-blaming defence makes life just that little bit harder for any woman seeking to escape an abusive relationship.
Lawyers don't bear responsibility for the broad set-up of the justice system, but nor do they have exploit it. They are human beings like the rest of us, and they bear the same responsibility to act in ethical, socially responsible ways. There's an important societal debate to be had about the provocation defence, and its role in upholding violence against women and gays. Rhetoric from lawyers about the fervent defence of justice simply works to support a status quo which excuses violence against certain segments of our society. Here's hoping that
Ablett-Kerr and her colleagues can put aside this rhetoric for a time, and play an intelligent and ethical part in the provocation debate.