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This writer is reading a book with the same title as this post. The author of the book is Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer with a very unusual legal practice. He represents, inter alia, persons on Death Row in the USA. I recommend the book. It is well written and an excellent Christmas present for most lawyers.

The subject of the book is the wrong that is a judicial death sentence. Even in a Europe without the death penalty, this is not an easy proposition to advance or defend. Instead, the ostensible subject of the book is how it is possible to be convicted of a crime you did not commit.

Because of his personal experience the author has settled and very interesting views about forensic or expert evidence. He denies the validity of forensic ballistics and hair comparison but he goes much further; he points out how improbable it is that a defence lawyer will find a ballistics or hair comparison expert who will belittle those “sciences”. After all, nobody would study those issues unless they were convinced, in the first place, they were valid.

The author remarks how lawyers are not likely to challenge these experts. He says the lawyers made their choice of profession because they were incapable of understanding the science subjects that are required for the practice of medicine and are too easily intimidated by the “scientists” of ballistics and hair comparison.

His views on ballistics are persuasive. The manufacturers of microscopes helpfully have produced one permitting the examination and comparison of two bullets at the same time. The expert is seeking the unique pattern of grooves generated by the passage of the bullet through the barrel of the gun. What Clive Stafford Smith denies is this; that there is a unique pattern of grooves generated by the passage of a bullet through the barrel of a gun. Guns are mass produced, therefore the barrel of one gun is very like the barrel of another gun and it is not the case that the pattern of grooves generated by the passage of the bullet through the barrel of the gun is unique to any particular gun.

His views on finance for the law are even more persuasive. If a defendant cannot afford to pay the economic cost of a proper defence in a criminal trial, or the state fails to allocate funds for that purpose, the accused will be convicted even though innocent. What is the economic cost of a proper defence? Inevitably, it will vary from case to case, but Clive Stafford Smith estimates that 1,000 hours will be needed for the task. That’s 83 days. Now assume an hourly rate for the lawyer at €300 (because that is less than the rate allowed by the Irish High Court for some company liquidators) and we can work out the cost of the defence, – €300,000.

Is that what Irish criminal lawyers get paid? No.