Public Interest Law Careers Guide - criminal law

Because criminal law involves defending individuals charged with crimes, it is often not considered to be public interest law. However if you decide to work in criminal law, expect to be confronted with issues such as issues of access to justice, the overrepresentation of minority groups within the system, freedom from arbitrary detention, adequate protection for minors and diversionary measures for first time offenders. These issues are at the heart of fundamental protection of human rights and civil liberties, as persons within the criminal justice system are often some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

If you are interested in criminal law, head to the nearest Magistrates Court and watch the process unfold. Here you will glimpse how summary offences are decided. Next, understand some of the contextual issues surrounding individuals involved in criminal activity. Start by volunteering for the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program (YRIPP) or the Office of the Public Advocate. Volunteers in these programs offer support and sit in with young people or people with disabilities who have been taken into police custody for interrogation. PLEA also runs a prison visitors scheme through the Monash-Oakleigh Legal Service. Alternatively, you could consider Barrister Shadowing with a criminal law barrister.

Both prosecution and defence must be properly and fairly conducted for the public interest to be served. For working in prosecution, criminal law traineeships are offered at the Office of Public Prosecutions. For work in policing, consider the Office of the Chief Commissioner of Police. If your interest lies more in defence, consider Victoria Legal Aid or generalist Community Legal Centres. These organisations assist and represent people who cannot afford to pay a lawyer. Much defence work is done by private firms, and some larger criminal law firms offer traineeships.

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