The "most devastating weapon" a lawyer can have is operating ethically, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Chris Craigie has told a conference two weeks ago.
Speaking at the Fifth Annual Public Sector In-house Counsel Conference in Canberra, Craigie said ethical awareness is an essential tool that should be at the forefront of professional approach and consciousness.
Craigie encouraged lawyers to listen to their instincts if they have a "troubled feeling" over a situation and ask themselves why they are troubled.
"One situation that I find more troubling is the lack of questioning or a troubled feeling that it is either ignored as inconvenient or obscured by hubris, ambition or some other self-focused motive. By this I refer to the lawyer who inwardly asserts 'I don't have any ethical issues'," he said.
"Now, that statement may reflect the truth of the matter. Alternatively, it may reflect that the lawyer has not reflected on ethical obligations and has not established an ethical awareness; with the result that the potential ethical issues are bubbling about the lawyer, whose fate may come to resemble that of the content, but doomed, frog in boiling water."
For government lawyers, ensuring that they operate in their role in a way that serves the community and not the individual interests of elected officials can be challenge, he said.
"Recognising the extent and limits of this situation is important, particularly for those of us entrusted with statutory functions that must be exercised independently of political direction or partiality but with due regard both to the law and lawful authority," he said.
As the nation's top prosecutor, Craigie said the most devastating weapon of a competent and well-briefed prosecutor is the perception and reality that the judge and jury can accept the lawyer as operating ethically and fairly.
"It is not just the prosecutor who possesses this devastating weapon of operating ethically and fairly. For every lawyer, to perform their tasks ethically and fairly is a powerful tool," he said.
"In a court setting a reputation in this regard is precious. Even for a relatively junior lawyer it is a valuable thing if interchange and conduct create the impression for the tribunal of fact that this is an unambiguously ethical lawyer."
- Sarah Sharples