The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It’s Broken

The Blurb On The Back:

How can you defend a child abuser you suspect to be guilty?

What do you say to someone sentenced to ten years who you believe to be innocent?

What is the law and why do we need it?

And why do they wear those stupid wigs?

From the lawyers to the criminals, the victims, witnesses and officers of the law, here is the best and worst of humanity, all working within a system which would never be off the front pages if the public knew what it was really like.

Both a searing first-hand account of the human cost of the criminal justice system, and a guide to how we got into this mess, the Secret Barrister wants to show you what it’s really like and why it really matters. 

You can order The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It’s Broken from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

The Secret Barrister is an anonymous junior barrister specialising in criminal law in England and Wales who was Independent Blogger of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and has written for numerous publications.  In this passionate, clearly written and damning book that is essential reading for anyone who cares about the United Kingdom they set out how the English criminal legal system should work and why it is going so drastically wrong.

The book is split into 12 chapters with an opening speech that serves as the introduction and a closing speech that sums up the Secret Barrister’s main arguments.  In between, each chapter takes on a specific aspect of the English and Welsh criminal legal system: 

– the courtroom, 

– the magistrate’s court, 

– remand and bail,

– prosecution,

– victims of crime,

– defence,

– Legal Aid and defence costs,

– the notion of trial and whether it is the best way of determining guilt or innocence,

– sentencing, and

– appeal.

It’s been over 20 years since I studied criminal law at university, so while some of what the Secret Barrister sets out was known to me, I really hadn’t taken on board the effect of the changes wrought on the system by Labour, Coalition and Tory governments since then and to be honest, I was utterly shocked.  The Secret Barrister is clearly furious at the systematic underfunding of the system, which leads to mistakes in disclosure, the (probably) guilty going free and an inability on the part of the accused to either get legal aid in the first place or recover their defence costs if they are found not guilty.

I found the writing to be clear and easy to follow (especially when dealing with technical jurisprudence ideas and the history of the English criminal legal system), although the Secret Barrister does sometimes pepper their prose with flowery oration techniques that didn’t quite work on the page (although did tie in with the conceit of this book being about a trial).  The Secret Barrister draws on personal anecdotes to illustrate their points but also pulls out a lot of facts and statistics with a comprehensive end note section setting out their sources.

Particularly good is the chapter on sentencing where the Secret Barrister debunks a lot of the froth and venom directed by the red top tabloids at judicial sentences to explain why sentencing is such a dark art and how judges can find their hands tied.  The over riding theme of the book is how the criminal justice system has become a political pawn and whipping boy, used by successive governments to pretend that they’re tough on crime while turning a blind eye to the consequences of their cuts and needless legislation.  While doubtless most readers will be familiar with the notion of “fat cat” lawyers bleeding the public purse dry, the Secret Barrister systematically debunks this (while still acknowledging abuses in the 80s) and I honestly don’t know how anyone with even a passing interest in the subject could be left pleased with the poor treatment of both witnesses and victims or be left with any emotion other than rage at how such a vital service is treated like a political football – there for scoring goals and not much else.

All in all, I came away from this book feeling that I had a better grip on what is happening with the criminal justice system and just how corroded it’s become.  

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