There are people who wish to make a “convenience plea” and wish to plead guilty to get the matter out of the way simply and cheaply, but at the same time they maintain a denial of the offence. Such people may, for example, try to enter a plea of guilty unrepresented to a shoplifting charge but state to the Magistrate that they “forgot to pay”, “did not realise they had the item when they left the shop”, “didn’t know what they were doing because of medication”, or that they struck a victim of an assault charge in self-defence. The Magistrate will not accept this plea, will usually order that it be struck out and recommend that the defendant seek legal advice, often from the duty solicitor, whilst the matter is held in the court list.
Often a defendant will tell the duty solicitor that they want to plead guilty to “get the matter over and done with”. This should always ring warning bells. When this occurs it is important for the duty solicitor to ask the defendant about the following:
- whether the defendant believes they are guilty of the offence(s) with which they are charged and are simply expressing a resolve to deal with the matter expeditiously (in which case the duty solicitor can advise on whether it is appropriate to plead guilty and how to do so); or
- whether the defendant actually denies all or any of the elements of the charge but wishes to plead guilty anyway. This is the basis of a convenience plea, in which case the duty solicitor must be careful about what they subsequently advise.
|KEEP ACCURATE AND COMPLETE NOTES|
|In either case it is important for the duty solicitor to record on the pink duty solicitor form exactly what instructions the defendant gives and what the duty solciitor has advised. The duty solciitor's only protection against future claims that they “made” the defendant plead guilty is the existence and accuracy of this record.|
The need for the duty solicitor to take accurate notes of instructions and subsequent advice cannot be overemphasised. People have been successful in appealing convictions or penalties due to a miscarriage of justice, on the grounds that they pleaded guilty:
- on the basis of incorrect advice;
- because they were misled by their solicitor (this includes a duty solicitor);
- because they were pressured into pleading guilty by the solicitor (again, this includes a duty solicitor).
Not only may the defendant appeal in such cases, but the solicitor involved may be the subject of adverse judicial comment when the appeal is heard, and may also be subject to disciplinary proceedings [see Stengle v Wells  SASC S4958 (Unreported, Cox J, 30 April 1985) for the full implications of the principles discussed above; Akpata v Police  SASC 305and Markl v Police  SASC 141for similar circumstances].
|ADVISING A DEFENDANT WHO WANTS TO MAKE A CONVENIENCE PLEA|
The advice a duty solicitor gives to a defendant in these circumstances must be circumspect, careful, clear and recorded in detail for possible future reference [see Stengle v Wells  SASC S4958 (Unreported,Cox J, 30 April 1995)]. The duty solicitor should: