CLAWA has a long and interesting history. Read Richard Utting’s interpretation below to find out more.
The Association was started in about 1985 by Malcolm Hall, then, as now, an irascible defence lawyer.
The practice of criminal defence work was pretty onerous. We regarded by other lawyers as being a bit grubby. They would sneer at us, as they strolled off to court to rake in money defending some insurance claim.
The legal establishment frowned on lawyers talking to the media. Criminal law existed in a public vacuum.
The death penalty was still the mandatory sentence for those convicted of wilful murder. It was the custom that this would be commuted into life imprisonment by Cabinet. We all had the fear that for political reasons, a State government may decide to execute some miscreant. Perhaps we were too cynical.
The Association gave us a voice. If the President of the Law Society could make public comments with gay abandon, so then, we reasoned, could the President of this Association.
And so it came to pass. For the first time, the considered views of the criminal law defenders became known. We fought for the abolition of the death penalty, for police interviews to be recorded and fairer rules for how trials are run. We organised conferences and other gatherings. Our first dinner was held in 1987. It has become one of the most successful legal dinners in the State.
Battles continue. We fought against the imposition of mandatory imprisonment being imposed. We know such measures will wreak great injustice. It is a measure designed to win votes rather than to sensibly reform the law.
We continue to fight against aspects of the confiscations laws. These were sold to us by politicians as catching the assets of the Mr Bigs. Alas, they primarily confiscate property legitimately acquired by honest people who make the mistake of sharing some of their home grown cannabis their mates.
Those who practice criminal law can now take pride in their role. What we do is pure law; standing up for the individual against the power of the State
From humble beginnings in the mid-1980s we now have close to 300 members ranging from students and articled clerks through to members of the judiciary. Membership is open to those who practise in crime from both sides of the bar table.
By Richard Utting
Protecting the presumption
We are an incorporated association whose objects include promoting public welfare by improving knowledge of criminal law and the standard of representation available to the public in criminal law.