The defence firm representing a convicted killer who has absconded have denied being ‘professional embarrassed’ following an outcry over the granting of legal aid for his appeal. Jack Shepherd was found guilty in his absence in July of the manslaughter of Charlotte Brown, 24, who drowned after he drunkenly flipped his boat while showing off late at night on the Thames.
The woman’s father accused Shepherd of ‘making a mockery of justice’ by appealing his conviction while receiving ‘tens of thousands of pounds of legal aid money to launch an appeal’. The justice secretary David Gauke last week promised to review the decision to allow legal aid for Shepherd to appeal his six-year jail sentence despite having been on the run since March 2018. The defence firm representing the man said that they received ‘less than £30,000’ for representing their client at trial and had ‘absolutely no idea’ where the figures of £93,000 or £100,000 came from as reported in the Daily Mail and that ‘95% of our legal aid work’ was done by the time their client absconded.
In a statement on the firm’s website, Tuckers insisted that it was ‘not professionally embarrassed because the client has not attended his hearing’. It pointed out that they were ‘criminal defence solicitors and have an important role in the criminal justice system to represent those accused of criminal offences. We represent. We do not judge.’
‘We represent our clients without prejudice and to the best of our ability,’ the statement continued. ‘That professionalism and duty does not go away because of the perceived morally dubious actions of any particular client (and in the context of a criminal lawyer that would be absurd).’
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, ‘a source close to Gauke’ said that he ‘understands and sympathises’ with public concern. ‘But in exploring this he is clear that we must not do anything that would make judges less likely to proceed with a trial for an absent defendant because of fear they would not be properly represented,’ the source said. ‘He is particularly mindful that victims’ families could be left without justice for years where courts consider themselves unable to try an absent defendant.’
The anonymous blogger the Secret Barrister argued that press coverage amounted to ‘calculated, cynical and dishonest fearmongering’ of what legal aid is. ‘If I were equally cynical, I’d suggest that this antagonising of the public against legal aid is a precursor the publication of the overdue LASPO report which will be damning of the damage done to people’s lives, in the hope that public rage will be diverted onto the Jack Shepherds and their lawyers, instead of the real villains in the legal aid scandal – the government.’