As many young lawyers in many countries of the Western world do Caspar puts his name down on the list to take legal aid cases. In Canada and most other nations they are ill-paid and often thankless cases. It is not clear how much lawyers are paid to take legal aid cases in Germany. Accused in legal aid cases consistently have many problems in their lives beyond legal issues. There is often little a lawyer can do to gain an acquittal. The best you can do for your client is to get a fair punishment for the crime. Yet any young lawyer wanting to do criminal defence work takes legal aid cases. You gain vital court experience, learn how to deal with clients and get known within the legal justice system. I was there 39 years ago.
Caspar gets a Sunday morning call to take on a case but it is not the usual legal aid case. Fabrizio Collini has killed Hans Meyer, a prominent 85 year old German industrialist, in a Berlin hotel.
It has been a particularly brutal murder. He has executed Meyer with 4 shots to the back of the head. Collini has then obliterated Meyer’s face stomping him until the heel of his shoe breaks off. Collini then tells the staff of the death and sits quietly in the lobby until the police come and arrest him.
Police, prosecutors, the examining magistrate and Caspar instantly see revenge as the motive because of the manner of the murder but no one can be certain of the motive as Collini refuses to explain why he killed Meyer.
There is a startling personal twist that adds interest to the story but to discuss it or the reason for the murder would be to spoil the book. Still those issues are so compelling I will discuss them in my next post with warning.
The personal issues lead Caspar to think of withdrawing from the case. He gets sound advice from a senior defence counsel, Professor Richard Mettinger, who tells Caspar that his duty is to defend people. Whatever Caspar thinks of the crime and the personality of his client it is his responsibility to defend his client. I agree. Every young lawyer who undertakes criminal defence must accept their obligation is to provide the best defence for the accused no matter whether the client is of good or bad character and without regard to the circumstances of the crime. It is not an easy commitment but it is necessary for an effective legal system
Caspar’s friend, a baker, sums it in two sentences:
“You’re a lawyer. You have to do what lawyers do.”
Unlike much legal fiction Caspar is not a super lawyer. He works hard. He honours his profession by doing the best job he can for his client.
More surprising the prosecution is concerned with finding out what happened and why then getting a conviction and life sentence.
It is an elegant book. It is too rare a modern mystery is written in under 200 pages. Von Schirach tackles a complex theme and addresses it well without needing 500 pages or more.
Caspar reminds me of myself as a young lawyer. I never handled a murder trial but I was in court often fighting for clients. Neither Caspar nor myself are flamboyant courtroom performers. Each of us strives to be well prepared.
The book will make you think about legal systems. It is a very good book deserving of the praise it has gained around the world.