In light of the recent murder of top gang defence attorney, Pete Mihalik, questions surrounding the risk criminal lawyers and practitioners face, when they defend clients with alleged links to criminal activity, have been raised.
Mihalik was shot and killed on Tuesday outside the Reddam House School in Greenpoint, while dropping his children at school. Mihalik’s eight-year-old son was injured, after being grazed by a bullet and his daughter escaped unharmed.
Eyewitnesses said that the gunmen fled in a silver VW Polo. Mihalik specialised in defending alleged gangsters including 28’s gang boss, Ralph Stanfield, alleged leader of a gun peddling ring Irshaad Laher and Colin Booysen, brother of alleged Sexy Boys gang boss, Jerome “Donkie” Booysen.
Law expert, Vanessa Da Silva Faria, said the risk posed to legal practitioners can come from two sides.
“It can either be our clients when things aren’t going too well in court and the blame gets put on us. It could also be from the members of the public as defence attorneys are generally looked down upon, especially when dealing with high-profile cases,” said Da Silva Faria.
Da Silva Faria said that law practitioners are fully aware of the consequences different cases hold.
“We as practitioners are lucky enough to have the ability to choose the matters we go into and to choose the particular clients we deal with and when we make that decision. We need to be conscious of the fact that there might always be consequences stemming from that,” she said.
“We walk into court knowing that if we are harsh on certain people or if we are dealing with a specific matter that has caused public outrage, then there is going to be consequences. That is something we will have to accept and deal with, if we choose to deal with that particular matter (case).”
When asked if there was any law to protect legal practitioners when dealing with high-risk cases, Da Silva Faria said that lawyers and advocates are just regular members of the public.
“We’re legal practitioners but we’re also just members of the public. Luckily enough, when we are in court dealing with the matter, the courts are quite safe as there are always police officers in court to protect the individuals in court.”
“At the end of the day, if we are outside court, we are simply members of the public and if there is anything that happens to us then we’ll have to go to the police station and follow the normal course anyone else would if they are threatened by a particular individual or if they do feel as if their safety is at risk.”
Da Silva Faria said that Mihalik’s death came as a shock to all and is a case for concern.
“We can speculate all we want but we still have to go through a trial and investigate the matter. At the end of the day, we are already aware of these kinds of consequences and these concerns.”
“It is something we as legal practitioners need to be more cautious of when dealing with particular matters.”
Two men are appearing in court on Thursday in connection with the murder.
BY: Zaahidah Meyer