Book review: ‘Madam, Where Are Your Mangoes?’ An Episodic Memoir

Sir Desmond de Silva
Publisher: Quartet Books (September 2017)
ISBN-13: 978-0704374423

The field of international law has developed rapidly over the past 25 years since the end of the Cold War. At the heart of these changes and able to tell the story from first-hand experience is Sir Desmond de Silva QC. His ‘episodic memoir’ does just that, fused with his range of endeavours spanning five decades at the English Bar. It captures that fascinating blend of the traditional English barrister pursuing a career at the Bar while exploring challenges abroad as new international frontiers have opened up. The book is a true celebration of the values and expertise of the British legal system contributing to the wider international community. Personally appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations to be the first British Chief Prosecutor of an international criminal court since 1946 for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the author’s name will always be associated with the arrest of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, who was the very first head of state to be convicted of war crimes in 2012 since the Nuremberg trials. Rare insights are offered into how these international courts and procedures really work in practice, and the difficulties that they face in a highly politicised environment. Only the most resilient lawyers can lead them successfully, as is demonstrated by Sir Desmond’s work for the United Nations and many other international bodies.

The book also gives the reader precious exposure to the changes at the criminal Bar over the course of a colourful, rumbustious and sometimes very dangerous life at the coalface of the profession. The author is quick to draw attention to the critical threats faced by the independent Bar, and the justice system as a whole, due to the severe cuts in government spending on legal aid over the years. Jailed, shot at, and the victim of an attempted deadly poisoning while fighting for justice, as is revealed in the episodes, the author has been an exceptional standard bearer for the English common law throughout the Commonwealth and the world.

This is a captivating and witty account of spy trials, murders, treason cases and a series of dramatic courtroom victories relating to sporting celebrities facing imprisonment and ruin. It is a racy (right from its title) and fast paced page-turner, which should be savoured as proof that the Bar is still a place where original and extraordinary legal minds and charming personalities, like Sir Desmond, can strive for justice at home and abroad. It will certainly pick you up at the end of a long day, perhaps a tiring one in court, and inspire you on to another.

Reviewer Rodney Dixon QC

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