As we all know, the primary right of an individual in court is that of a fair trial, but what does a fair trial mean and how does the rule of law apply when you are confronted with the legal system? Do you know your legal rights?
Separation of power is a cornerstone of our democratic system of government. It means the people who make the law (the legislature, such as politicians) are separate from the people who execute and administer the law (the executive, such as the Police) and from the people who interpret and enforce laws (the judiciary, such as the Courts).
The separation of power in our society ensures people finding themselves in a legal situation face a Court that is impartial and free from bias. The role of solicitors providing legal advice to a person faced with a criminal charge is vital in ensuring proper justice.
Consider the following example: an individual travelled into the city to attend an event, he arrived early and went to the venue to check his bag into the cloakroom. He was greeted by a number of security guards who informed him that threats had been made against the event – they scanned his bag, and discovered a knife inside. He explained it was for preparing fruit to eat, they listened to his explanation and allowed him to check it in.
He left the venue and returned later for the event having browsed around the town. By this time, there were uniformed police accompanying the security guards. They asked him to collect his bag and he allowed them to inspect its contents. Having done this, they confiscated his knife and charged him with possession of a knife under Section 51 of the Weapons Act. He was issued a notice to appear before the Court and then allowed to enter the venue. At a certain point during the event, he was approached by a man stating he was a detective and after a brief conversation he was asked to leave the concert and his ticket was later refunded.
The following day, ignorant of the law he decided he should plead guilty to the charge because he had forgotten to remove the knife from his bag. Having been informed of his right to remain silent by the Police, he decided to give an account at the police station admitting to possession of the knife and stating the purpose for the knife was to prepare food.
Without reliable legal advice, there are a number of potential negative outcomes of this matter. With a conviction on a weapons charge, international travel (among other things) could be made very challenging or impossible. Fortunately with the application of sound legal knowledge, the outcome was much more fortunate and when he came before the Court and explained his situation the charges were discontinued against him.
Under the law, a person faced with this charge is not guilty if they have a reasonable excuse. For this example, such an excuse is present under subsection (2)(d) which states that a person may use a knife in a restaurant, a public place or in a park for the purpose of preparing food.
Had this person proceeded to a trial on the charge, the police prosecution would be put to proof to establish that he did not have a reasonable excuse for the knife in his possession and the Court would then determine on the facts and the evidence if he should be sentenced and convicted for the charge or if he is not guilty. The court being independent of the parties will hear all the evidence presented to it and apply the law in an independent and impartial manner.
In times such as these the rule of law is vital to maintaining the stability of our society and ensures that everyone is treated equally before the law.