00:43, November 06 283 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-06 00:43:04
From the Guardian archive  Innocent plead guilty – archive, 1972

Innocent people were being advised by their lawyers to plead guilty to criminal charges because they could not afford the legal costs of fighting the case in the courts, a solicitor said yesterday. No one knew how many innocent people were being convicted each year in this way, said Mr Ivan Geffen, from Walsall, Staffordshire. He was urging that there should be new legislation to introduce a general right to defence costs for people acquitted of criminal charges.

Mr Geffen’s motion before the winter conference at Blackpool of the British Legal Association – a ginger group representing some 3,000 solicitors in England and Wales – was defeated by one vote.


The motion urged that “accused persons should have equal rights” and therefore that an acquitted person should recover from public funds the costs reasonably incurred by him unless the court decided for stated reasons, that he should bear all or part of them.

Mr Jeffrey Gordon, of Southwark, London, the association’s general secretary, said Mr Geffen’s proposal would lead to first and second-class acquittals – first-class where the accused recovered his costs and second-class where he did not.

Mr Geffen said: “If there is one thing in a civilised society that is likely to destroy respect for the rule of law it is that the idea should be put about and believed that the law is not equal to all.

“Many lawyers in practice are compelled to advise innocent clients today – especially if the court is far from their homes – that it will be better, cheaper, and safer to plead guilty to something they have not done, rather than to go to the cost and the disturbance of a trial because the penalty likely to be imposed on them when convicted is less than the costs of proving their innocence.

“No one has any means of knowing how many people are wrongly convicted yearly in our courts in this way – people who have done nothing wrong but cannot afford the luxury of establishing their innocence.”

The conference passed a resolution rejecting the view, expressed in the recent report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee that “it is as much in the public interest that a guilty person should be convicted as it is that an innocent one should be acquitted.”