Making a stand for justice

19:00, Nov 09 2012

The death of high-profile lawyer Greg King struck a deep emotional chord with an overwhelming number of New Zealanders, and it's difficult to escape the feeling that the strong sense of grief caught many of them by surprise.

Criminal defence lawyers, arguably more than any other profession, are often the targets of unbridled public scorn, and the higher a profile one has, the more vitriolic that scorn can be.

There were few, if any, defence lawyers with a higher public profile than Greg King, yet his untimely death has revealed just how highly respected he was by people from all walks of life.

From hardened criminals and his peers in the legal field, to police officers, judges, justice advocates and the man on the street, King has been praised as a great legal mind, a man of decency and compassion, and an all round good bloke.

While he was clearly one of the best defence lawyers in New Zealand, it's tempting to think of him as an exception to the rule that has come to define his profession in the public's mind. He wasn't.

If anything, his death has shed light on the true nature of what criminal lawyers do, and gone a significant way to dismantle the unflattering stereotypes that dog them.


Are there bad lawyers of questionable moral fibre? Of course there are. No profession is devoid of bad apples.

But what drove King is the same force driving the overwhelming majority of his peers - a passion for advocacy and a conviction that every person before the law should have a voice. The nobility of what they do exists because of the opprobrium they often receive from the public, not despite it.

Martin Luther King Jr perhaps put it best when he wrote from a prison cell that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

In that sense, criminal defence lawyers are daily on the front lines of the battle to ensure humanity's worst instincts never overcome the central tenet of our justice system - that the law applies to everyone, equally.

We all know that system is not perfect, and therefore produces imperfect outcomes at times. Sometimes justice in this country seems unfair, or just outright wrong.

Whatever one's view on that, no one should question the integrity of those who stand up on behalf of people accused of a crime and whose liberty is on the line.

Greg King was one man who carried out that role with honour and distinction, and there are many more like him.

Manawatu Standard