These days the guilty plea is more sought after and better rewarded than ever before. An early plea can result in a reduction of sentence of up to one-third, and the Scottish Legal Aid Board will pay a solicitor the same for a guilty plea as for preparing an entire defence. But what happens if the accused doesn't know if he's guilty?

How could a person not know if they are guilty or not? Take the case of my client who was working Christmas morning and told by his wife to come straight home afterwards as her sister and family were coming for dinner. Instead he stayed behind for drinks and nibbles, returning home to find the queen already writing next year's speech and the Christmas turkey drying out faster than a jaikey with no giro.

Retreating to the living room slightly ahead of a hail of Christmas crockery, my client was joined by his sister-in-law's partner, a man who, judging by the way he later filled the witness box, wasn't used to being kept waiting at meal times. They argued and my client ended up on the floor with one very large, angry brother-in-law sitting astride him playing punch-the-face. It was at this stage in proceedings that the alleged offence was committed. My client reached out a hand, found a long-stemmed wine glass, jabbed it into the top of his attacker's head, dragged it down his face and then for good measure stabbed the stem into his chest, just above the collarbone.

They say that in war it's the victors who write history; however, in fights it's the victors who get prosecuted, and this was no split-decision. My client acquired two black-eyes, but his opponent was left with more stitches than the Bayeux tapestry and lucky to be alive. As a means of defending himself, my client's actions had certainly been highly effective, but did they meet the legal requirements for the special defence of self-defence or had the force used amounted to cruel excess? Was he guilty or not guilty? As Harry Hill might say, 'there's only one way to find out.'

His subsequent acquittal after trial meant that, in hindsight, my client had made the correct decision to plead not guilty. But what are the other possible outcomes of such a prosecution? Were it not for a host of factors, including a Glasgow jury, my client might have been convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment, albeit reduced to four-and-a-half with remission.

Or he could have pled guilty, whereupon an early plea should have resulted in a one-third discount taking 60 months to 40 and remission to one-half as opposed to six months for sentences over four years. The difference therefore between a finding of guilt and a plea of guilty was potentially an extra 34 months. Quite a gamble.

Guilt or innocence: it's not always cut and dried. For all sorts of reasons, sometimes justice requires a judge or jury to decide matters after a proper test of the evidence. The knowledge that, in opting for his or her inalienable right to stand trial, a person runs the risk of receiving a huge increase in jail time, compared to someone who pleads guilty to exactly the same allegation, seems on occasion to be unfair and a major incentive for those presumed innocent to plead guilty, rather than for justice to be allowed to run its course.

'Good News, Bad News' by WHS McIntyre is published by Sandstone Press

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