Picador (May 2022)
ISBN 9781529057041 320 pages
Reviewed by Emma Fielding

‘I feel blindly impotent; acutely and terrifyingly aware that we in our wigs, hugging our legalistic mottos, are often simply going through the motions; shuffling the deck-chairs on the dipping ships of other people’s lives.’ 

The Secret Barrister (SB to their friends) describes themselves on Twitter as: ‘Wears a black cape and fights crime. Not Batman.’ Well, if their latest book Nothing But The Truth were a Batman film, it would be Batman Begins, the origin story. The book explores SB’s youth, starting out with their experience as a junior barrister and finishing with the creation of the @BarristerSecret persona and, of course, the infamous bunny image. 

Nothing But The Truth roughly follows a chronological order, beginning with SB’s upbringing, education, applications for pupillage and then tenancy. The book is interspersed with anecdotes from various points in SB’s Bar career, illustrating their journey from wide-eyed Daily Mail reader who believed that we are soft on crime to battle-hardened barrister who understands the realities of the criminal justice system. 

SB’s experience of pursuing the Criminal Bar is depressingly familiar. The member of the scholarship panel who expresses surprise that they will be practising crime ‘in the provinces’. The fellow student dining at the Inn who has such a posh voice that SB believes he must be putting it on. The crushing dismay when you realise you are a reserve pupillage candidate at a set where you had been all but told you had a place. The pupil barrister who became her supervisor’s housekeeper and was forced to undertake demeaning tasks. 

The evolution of SB’s thinking is at the heart of this book. Nothing But The Truth is at its best when early lessons and experiences are interwoven with insightful anecdotes. Let’s take, for example, SB’s description of the case of ‘Dev’ who stole a kitchen knife from someone’s home in the middle of the night. He was a cocaine addict who survived a car accident (while under the influence) and as a result of that experience turned his life around and got clean from the drugs. Eighteen months after committing the crime, he receives a suspended sentence and so avoids immediate custody. SB very eloquently observes:

‘Ours is not the binary world of criminals and law-abiding citizens, with nothing in between. People are generally better than the most negative retelling of their actions. We are all more than our own worst acts.’

Illustrative examples are powerfully made and highly effective. Parts of the book tend towards the self-indulgent (see the letter to their future self) and messages can sometimes be hammered home. It may remind you of that criminal barrister you invite to a dinner party because they tell great stories, yet is the only person still talking at the end of the night.

The book jumps from personal anecdotes to court stories, sometimes at a dizzying pace. The aim of making the book inclusive to non-legal readers who do not know their PTPHs from their OICs is commendable, however the constant asterisks with explanations can interrupt the flow; perhaps a glossary would have achieved this purpose.

Overall, Nothing But The Truth is a perspicacious, honest and entertaining read for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Do prepare yourself for a ‘war story’ anecdote or two.