The Current

Marie Henein wants to challenge 'two-dimensional caricature' of criminal defence lawyers

Criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein says she felt compelled to write her memoir to combat her “two-dimensional” public image, and the harm it could do to public faith in the courts.

'Caricature' of defence lawyers as villains could undermine faith in the courts: Henein

Criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein's new memoir, Nothing But The Truth, was released Tuesday. (Markian Lozowchuk)

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Originally published on Sept. 28, 2021.

Criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein says she felt compelled to write her new memoir to combat a "caricature" of both herself and her profession.

"I think that when you're a somewhat public person, particularly as a female, the image that exists is usually pretty two-dimensional," said Henein, who has defended several high-profile cases, including Michael Bryant, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, and Jian Ghomeshi.

She thinks "not understanding what's behind that, or who I am," doesn't paint the whole picture.

Her book Nothing But The Truth, released Tuesday, focuses on her own story rather than those specific cases. But she does write about being cast as a villain after the Ghomeshi trial. She said that experience was "irrelevant" on a personal level, but mattered to her in a broader sense.

"I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about two-dimensional caricatures of either who I am or what defence lawyers are," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"But I do care about what the public sees because it's the way they either choose to engage with the justice system, to respect the justice system, [or] to interface with it," she said.

"That is important to me."

Henein spoke to Galloway about her career, and how the public can sometimes misunderstand the work of a defence lawyer. Here is part of their conversation.

You write in the book that there are a series of questions you get asked most often, as a criminal defence lawyer. I want to ask a couple of them to you. One is, how can you defend someone who's charged with a heinous crime?

That is the job. And part of it is a misunderstanding of what my job is. When you are charged, the state has to prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. It's not trite. It's not just a platitude. The weight of the state's authority is focused on you; we know there are miscarriages of justice. So when a client comes in to me, I do not judge their moral culpability. That is not my job. My job is to force the state to prove their case, to advance whatever defences I can advance for the client.

Not my job to judge moral culpability, says Marie Henein

1 year ago
Duration 1:36
Criminal defence lawyers have a specific role in the legal system, and it’s not one of judgement, says Henein.

But you don't walk into my office to get a moral assessment of your character, just like you wouldn't walk into a surgeon's office and say, "Look, before you do the heart surgery, I just want to know, do you think I'm a good person? Do you really like my life choices?" 

We don't expect that. And I think what people forget, and it's understandable that they conflate you with your client, is that we are professionals. We are educated professionals who have a very specific role in the architecture of the legal system. And so that's why it's feasible, emotionally and morally, to be in the role that I'm in.

It leads to one of the other questions that you often get asked, which is how can you defend someone you know is guilty?

Well, when someone comes to you and says, "Look, I did this," your ethical obligations limit you from going into court and saying, "My client is innocent." 

You can say, "State, you've got to prove the case against my client." But I couldn't, for example, lead a false alibi.

So number one, on an ethical basis, there are constraints when someone comes in to you and says, "I did this." It narrows what you can do. Emotionally, it's because I'm complying with my ethical obligations. I'm doing what my role is. And sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes it is — after it is all said and done — something you have to bear. But you don't go into this profession not knowing that that is just part and parcel of the job.

You don't only defend the innocent, or the people you think are innocent.

Marie Henein on defending men accused of sexual assault

1 year ago
Duration 1:47
There is no dishonour in representing someone charged with any offence, says defence lawyer Henein.

One of the other questions you're asked — and this will be the final one that I mention that's in the book — is, you're asked, "How can you as a woman defend someone who's charged with sexual assault?"

The same way that a man defends someone who is charged with sexual assault. You know, men have been in my profession for hundreds and hundreds of years. And it's not dishonourable to be a defence lawyer. It's not dishonourable to represent anybody charged with an offence. I don't see the incongruity of it at all. And quite frankly, it's not the question we should be asking.

How do you respond when people ask that question and then follow it by saying, "Do you consider yourself a feminist?"

Well, you know, it's interesting that they add another element, Matt, because when men disagree with each other, when men do various professions, when men argue about politics or wars or whatever it is, nobody ever says, "You know what, you're really a traitor to your manhood." 

It's a gendered question, I think, in my view. And I don't answer that question because I think it causes us to fight amongst each other. And I think we as women have many challenges in the world, and the last thing we need to be doing is questioning each other's credentials, quite frankly. So there's a spectrum and we have different views, different philosophies, different political leanings. I don't think that undermines it, but I'm not, and there will be no day that I feel compelled to justify what my views are, what my values are, or what I do for a living to anybody.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ines Colabrese. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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