Under the Wig: a Lawyer’s Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocence
Author: William Clegg QC
Publisher: Canbury Press (2018)
ISBN: 9781912454082

The great virtue of this utterly compelling book is that Bill Clegg QC tells it as it is. Now, in the terrible chaos engulfing a great profession and on his way to the top. A life of a top criminal advocate within a profession he loves and adorns, with many high profile cases well summarised. Written for the interested non-lawyer, it has an excellent structure of career progression and specific cases combined together, chapter by chapter. It reads like the man: direct, clear, properly combative, reasonable and devoid of artificial rhetorical.

Missing are detailed pen portraits of fellow advocates, but that would have missed the point of a book which sets out unambiguously to demystify and to inform. It will serve equally well for any would-be lawyers, who, like the author and many of us, did not have any inside legal connections before we began. Absorb with joy the advice on how to appeal to a jury and remember it. Cherish equally how to win the trust of a judge.

So of course the author tackles the questions advocates are always asked and the byzantine ways leading us from eating dinners, slogging through pupillage, keeping heads above water in practice to eventually, for the chosen, Silk. His range of high profile cases include Jill Dando’s terrible killing, the case of Michael Stone, War Crimes in the Balkans, Private Lee Clegg and the Phone Hacking trial. But it is his analysis and strictures on the ‘Trying times for Legal Aid’ which will resonate with so many readers. The insider’s view, persuasive for its obvious truths. Just a glimpse:

‘If you believe, as I do that everyone is entitled to a fair trial, it follows that every individual must have access to proper legal representation regardless of their financial status. Legal aid was designed precisely to do just that… For decades, the system worked well… the barristers defending [legal aid defendants] earned a fee that was independently assessed to be fair and reasonable full. This is no longer the case.’

And then all the reasons: a decade of government cuts… for lawyers have fallen out of favour with the Treasury. And other woes: court staffing has been reduced and the budget for maintaining the courts has fallen. Stories of leaking roofs, toilets that do not work and heating and air conditioning systems that are broken.

‘There is a general feeling of squalor that you might expect in a developing country (but curiously do not find there, because respect for the rule of law demands that the courts are properly maintained). Here, in one of the largest economies in Europe, that does not appear to be the case.’

There is much more to justify his conclusion: it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that the profession is in crisis. So it is and we should shout that from the rooftops. And the more that leading lawyers beat that drum, the better chance of reform. What would Jeremy Bentham make of our shoddy slide into mediocrity by default and wilful underfunding!

Now all of that may just suggest a faint partiality by your reviewer. Perish the thought. My independent verdict is that I have never read a more accurate portrayal of our profession. Buy it now.

Reviewer: Nigel Pascoe QC