The latest offering from The Secret Barrister – a devastating analysis of the gulf between what we think we know and the reality of how our justice system works – couldn’t be more timely.
Only recently, Boris Johnson has been citing ‘lefty lawyers’ as public enemy number one when it comes to the fair administration of justice in this country, sounding a dog whistle to the media and public alike and diverting attention from the ineptitude of politicians. (And the depressing thing about it, is that it works.)
Page after page of The Secret Barrister’s much anticipated second book presents eye-watering examples of misrepresentations about the law, the courts and the people who work in them. It cites flagrant inaccuracies, many of them deliberate, which fundamentally undermine trust in the entire process.
The problem, as the book points out, is that most people in this country think that the legal system is there for someone else. We will not be wrongly accused; the criminal justice system is there to bring the ‘bad guys’ to justice. Neither, as the book cogently reminds us on numerous occasions, do we anticipate that we might need to challenge a department of state, or claim for devastating injury, or seek access to our children, and so when the government uses it as the perennial ‘whipping post’, who cares?
After all, it would be a very lonely place on our doorsteps every Thursday evening if we were all invited out to clap for the lawyers… Unless of course you are one of those who has suffered or lost loved ones as a result of negligence or incompetence, or wanted to hold the government to account, or might one day in the future.
The Secret Barrister makes clear, ‘As with so much else of what we’ve seen in these pages, the greatest trick they are pulling is convincing you that the alleged “criminal” will never be you.’
For those in power, lawyers and the law can be real irritants. They tend to get in the way, and a narrative needs to be created in the public mind, which denigrates them (hence, it’s all the fault of the ‘lefty human rights lawyers and other do gooders’).
The book is relentless in its forensic deconstruction of these myths.
By regular reference to ‘The Court of Public Opinion’, a place where politicians and media go when they don’t like Courts of Law, we see how easy it is to create a lynch mob approach to justice and a climate where politicians can thrive when openly boasting about breaking the law.
This is an accusation which can be levelled against politicians of all colours and seen most vividly during the attacks on the independence of the judges during the Supreme Court prorogation hearings.
The book deals with these big issues, in chapters about democracy, liberty and access to justice. But perhaps its most devastating critique concerns those quieter, personal rights and protections that the constant insidious attacks from politicians, media and some commentators , so gravely undermine… and our acquiescence in the process.
In fact, in all the cases cited in the book, the law is rather sensible. Shock horror, the law of self-defence does allow you to strike first, the legal aid system does not put ridiculous amounts of money in defendants’ pockets and employment laws, far from encouraging wasteful spending, leave a lot of needful people without help or representation. The Secret Barrister puts it succinctly, ‘And while I don’t seek an inverted narrative, casting all employees as virtuous saints and all employers as neo-Dickensian… I do find it a curious act of self-flagellation that we so rarely allow ourselves to contemplate the possibility that we, the little people, might be entitled to stick up for ourselves.’
This is a book which will make you angry. But it will also concern you. And so it should. It presents an invaluable stick of garlic against those who would dilute our protections, take away our rights and substitute in their place powers, given to the already powerful.
Read it. Keep it. And keep reading it.