Fake Law: The Truth About Justice In An Age Of Lies by The Secret Barrister

The Blurb On The Back:

Could the courts really order the death of your innocent baby?  Was there an illegal immigrant who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat?  Are unelected judges truly enemies of the people?

Most of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, if we even think of it at all.  But the law touches every area of our lives: from intimate family matters to the biggest issues in our society.

Our familiarity is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests.  This Fake Law allows the powerful and the ignorant to corrupt justice without our knowledge – worse, we risk letting them make us complicit.

Thankfully, the Secret Barrister is back to reveal the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind many of the biggest legal stores of recent years.  In Fake Law, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and builds a defence again the abuse of our law, our rights and our democracy that is as entertaining as it is vital.  

You can order FAKE LAW: THE TRUTH ABOUT JUSTICE IN AN AGE OF LIES by The Secret Barrister from Amazon 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 and best selling author.  Their second book is a scorching polemic taking on some of the most high profile English cases of the last 20 years to look at how poor media reporting coupled with political interests misrepresent the law and how this works to the detriment of everyone by undermining the people’s faith in the rule of law.

The book is divided into 9 chapters (plus an introduction and epilogue).  Each chapter takes a legal topic that has made the headlines over the last 20 years, including the cases that have been covered.  In each chapter, the Secret Barrister starts by running through what the applicable law is, how the relevant cases were covered by newspapers, commentators and politicians (as the case may be) before running through what actually happened in the cases concerned and why the issues concerned are important.

Chapter 1 looks at the law of self-defence with the cases Tony Martin, who in 1999 shot 2 burglars attempting to break into his house, killing one and wounding the other.  This was a really famous case at the time, with a lot of newspapers and politicians taking Martin’s side after he was convicted of murder (reduced on appeal to manslaughter, which led to a lot of right wing newspapers protesting that it meant people could not defend their homes.  The Secret Barrister forensically sets out the case and why Martin was convicted, using other cases such as Munir Hussain (who was imprisoned for assaulting a burglar).  The Secret Barrister sets out what the law of self-defence is and how politicians then tried to capitalise on cases like this by promising to strengthen self-defence rights, only to do nothing of the kind.

In chapter 2, the Secret Barrister considers the tragic cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, two children with incurable conditions where doctors wanted to withdraw treatment over the wishes of the parents and the matters were referred to court for a decision.  I thought that this was one of the best chapter in the book as the Secret Barrister sensitively sets out what the law says on the rights and best interests of the child but at no point are they insensitive to the emotions and needs of the parents in either case.  What does come through in this chapter – and which made me so angry – was how each set of parents were used by politicians and bad faith actors keen to further their own agendas, including (unforgivably) holding out false hope of treatment with a doctor offering treatment to Alfie Evans never having even seen all his medical notes before making his claims.  This was a genuine case of people using fake legal claims for their own needs and the way the Secret Barrister basically takes apart this mix of ruthless charlatans and shysters is superb.

Chapter 3 considers so-called “compensation culture” and personal injury law.  This is quite a complicated area of law and I think that the Secret Barrister does a great job of clearly explaining how you establish if you have a claim and then how you make that claim and how compensation is calculated.  They then go on to thoroughly debunk claims that there exists a compensation culture, including looking at cited examples of frivolous compensation claims.  It ends by focusing in on whiplash, which the insurance industry was insistent as being an endemic and demanded action over and which saw politicians capitulate and limit the amounts that could be claimed for whiplash injuries, finishing by setting up the consequences of that limit – including how the savings do not seem to have trickled down yet to insurance customers.

The world of employment law is examined in Chapter 4 with the Secret Barrister looking at the disastrous impact that increased court fees had on people being able to bring claims and the political shenanigans that drove it.  There’s a good summary of the law on unfair dismissal, discrimination and how compensation is calculated, which I think is very useful for anyone wanting to understand this area of law.  What comes through in this chapter is how the Government was determined to force through changes, regardless of the warnings given to them about the effects because they were looking for a quick cut to costs and how devastating this was to the rights of claimants until the charges were set aside by the Supreme Court.

Chapter 5 looks at the Conservative Party’s bete noir, the Human Rights Act.  This one piece of legislation probably gets more column inches in the right wing tabloid press than anything else.  The Secret Barrister does a fabulous job of setting out exactly why this is an important piece of legislation, how the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights work and how the Human Rights Act protects ordinary people, including rape victims, by making public bodies accountable. This was my other contender for best chapter in the book because it does such a great job of setting out how the Act works and why it is important and also just how politicians deliberately lie about it for their own political ends.

In Chapter 6 the focus is on legal aid, which is something that the Secret Barrister has talked about extensively in their other books in the context of criminal legal aid.  As a result there is some overlap here if you have read their other books (including how the media falsely report on big legal aid payouts to convicted criminals), but here you get a comprehensive account of the history and types of legal aid that used to be available and how it became a political football that served to further curtail people’s access to justice.

Chapter 7 also overlaps with what the Secret Barrister has previously covered in their first book about the criminal justice system in England and Wales.  What’s new is the discussion about what a not guilty and guilty verdict means, what jury trials involve and again, how this gets politicised and covered in right wing media.  To be honest, the overlap with the other books took away from a lot of the impact here.

The Secret Barrister looks at equality and due process in chapter 8.  This deals with some of the most contentious cases in recent years, including Robert Thompson and John Venables who murdered Jamie Bulger when they were children and whose jail sentence was the subject of political outrage and appeals.  Particularly interesting is the point the Secret Barrister makes about how parliamentary privilege has been abused to subvert due process to name Sir Philip Green as having put NDAs in place to allegedly cover up allegations of sexual harassment and bullying, notwithstanding that a hearing was due to be held on whether an injunction should be granted to prevent disclosure and when the counterparts to those NDAs were against disclosure.  It also deals with the on-going Shamim Begum case, and the possibility that a decision not to let her return to the UK will leave her stateless, and makes pertinent points about the ramifications of such a decision.

The final chapter examines the relationship between the law, government and parliament and how the relationship between them works.  One of the cases here is Gina Miller’s case on whether government or parliament had prerogative to serve the Article 50 notice to leave the EU and how the decision and the judges were deliberately misrepresented by Leave politicians and the right wing press.

All in all my minor criticisms aside, I do think that this is a must-read for any one who wants to actually understand how the English legal system works or get to the heart of how the law is either misconstrued or mis-represented and manipulated for political ends.   

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