Attorneys who represent clients accused of criminal activity face unique ethical dilemmas. What do you do if your client asks you to hold on to the murder weapon? How do you reconcile that you may sometimes represent people who you know are guilty? What if your client tells you he or she will lie in court?
Presenting on professional ethics, Scott Ciment, ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) country director in the Philippines, raised these intriguing questions at a December 14 convention held in the Manila Hotel. Organized by the Philippine Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), the seminar was given as part of the PAO’s mandatory continuing legal education to its more than 1,500 members. The PAO is a national legal aid office, providing representation in almost 95 percent of criminal cases in the country.
A former public defender, Ciment said that as representatives of the public, public attorneys should realize that their ultimate goal is to ensure that the justice system works for all people. He said that they should strive to make sure that everyone follows the rules and that a nation’s constitution is respected. Stating that the Philippines’ 1998 Speedy Trial Act provides an implementation mechanism for the constitutionally-guaranteed defendants’ right to a speedy trial, Ciment said that when representing criminal defendants, public attorneys‘ responsibility is to ensure that the deadlines for each stage of the proceedings are met and that the client obtains a continuance when warranted.
Ciement said that ABA ROLI and the PAO will soon release a resource that would help public defenders address the many dilemmas they face. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the resource will contain an ethics code, an operations manual, forms public attorneys use frequently and reference materials on relevant international laws. It will also contain examples of real ethical dilemmas from American and Philippine jurisprudence and PAO disciplinary cases. ABA ROLI is currently working with the PAO to design a training module based on the reference.
To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].