I don’t do book reviews. Or often have the time to read.
It is against this backdrop therefore that I find myself needing to implore – and yes, I use that word very deliberately – everyone who reads this blog (all 3 of you!) that The Secret Barrister – Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken is a book everyone needs to read.
I wish this was a wider read blog and so my words would somehow inspire at least a good dozen people to read this book. I wish I had the articulation to explain why this book should be nationally-required reading. But I hope you entertain me enough to humbly explain why this book has inspired me to use my first blog post in two years (!) to recommend this book to you.
Strap in, it’s going to be a long one.
The Law is actually Very Interesting
(and not just to accounting martial art geeks)
Between being an accountant, following the world of finance in law and in politics, and my martial arts passion, I sadly find time to dedicate to reading sorely lacking. As someone who was proudly an avid reader in my youth, I find this entirely regrettable. So for me to find time to invest in reading in a book – and actually finishing it in between all of life’s little distractions of which we all have – means the book has managed to keep a geek with an at-times low attention span thoroughly engaged.
But let’s go back a few steps. For me, adding this book to my reading list, given the aforementioned time constraints, was obvious. As anyone who knows me will know, I’ve always had an interest in law, and indeed my original career path throughout most of high school was to become a barrister myself.
I’ve found law to be interesting from the days as a teenager watching such dramas as Judge John Deed, Kavanagh QC and yes, even Judge Judy. I used to read columns in newspapers where ordinary people sought legal advise on ordinary issues fascinating. A work experience in Year 9 working in a local council’s legal department, full of administration as I’m sure you can imagine, still was fascinating. (1)
I still find law very interesting. Hell, I found a unit at university on European Community Law one of the most interesting subjects I’ve studied. So perhaps my opinion on what is interesting is not a good barometer for what others find interesting. But still, the point stands.
Why? Because law matters. It should matter to all of us. We might not all want to know the technical details of the difference between a solicitor, barrister or solicitor-advocate. Or of the difference between Crown & Magistrate Courts. But how the legal system works at a basic level and to understand how justice is done should be a talking point for many people. And it isn’t. Why?
This is the subject the Secret Barrister seeks to invoke.
From Twitter to a Book
I first discovered the Secret Barrister from a Twitter post; if memory recalls, it began with Tommy Robinson. I was getting frustrated with the various posts that spectacularly failed to explain what had happened at Leeds Crown Court in May this year (2, 3).
Suddenly I came across @BarristerSecret on Twitter, with link to a blog post (4) that was not only well-written, but articulated all the perspectives with an assuredness of someone who actually understood the subject and with a passion of someone determined to do the subject justice – pun intended. Clicking Follow on their Twitter page shortly followed.
Since then, The Secret Barrister continues to post regularly, often on topics of how the law is failing us, and levelling fair and justifiable grievances at the politicians behind the system. So when I heard they had a book out, I found myself purchasing it very quickly and hoping an upcoming holiday would allow ample opportunity for myself to do the book justice and hoped their Twitter posts was an ample measure of how good and compelling the read was going to be.
I was not disappointed on both counts. Most importantly, the book is an absolute joy to read and it is, to use the literary cliche, a page turner.
Secondly, it was a UK holiday. The inevitable rain allowed plenty of time to get hooked.
From Laughter to Anger
I found myself laughing – actual roar-out-loud-laughter – within the first 15 minutes of starting the book. But before too long I found myself feeling anger, frustration and outrage.
Not at the author or the book itself, On the contrary, The Secret Barrister does an incredible job taking a subject as complex as the English & Welsh legal system and make it feel so approachable. It’s very easy for a subject matter expert to forget how to simplify their expertise or to remember how little a lay person knows. This is not the case here; it’s all explained in an air of simplicity, but without feeling dumbed down or the reader made to feel stupid for not knowing the subject at hand.
No, the anger is evoked because of The Secret Barrister’s passion. Indeed, that passion and their determination that it should be the best it could possibly be comes across in every page, coupled with anonymised examples and case studies so relatable that you can’t help but feel a similar emotion as what SB (5) must have felt at the time in those situations.
The anger is evoked because time after time, after explaining patiently how the system is supposed to work, why in the real word they have numerous obvious examples of how it so spectacularly doesn’t. Examples so breathtakingly obvious one almost wonders why we need the book to point it out. The fact that some of the changes in the law that have been made by recent governments have hidden this from view so simply cannot help but generate a reaction other than anger.
Except maybe frustration. The frustration SB must feel on a very regular basis.
Not just a matter of perspective
Of course, one has to keep a semi-open mind that SB is writing this with their point of view – I hate to use the word agenda. It would be remise to think there could be alternative points of view or a rationale reason to think why the system works the way it does. However, I would argue to support why I think the Secret Barrister is absolutely spot on with the observations they deal with in their book.
It’s obvious SB deals with this day in, day out. The examples they give, backed up with copious sources all listed out as per a solid university paper, remove the fear that this book is simply propaganda from a legal professional voicing their opinion from a certain angle. This isn’t just a Barrister who’s frustrated at the current Legal Aid budget and wrote a book merely to register a protestation. This is an account from the trenches of a legal professional crying for help from a public who’s woefully ignorant on some of the realities they’re having to deal with.
Their ongoing Twitter posts and blogs post supporting observations and updates, linking to the latest news stories and statements made by politicians, ensure that any points made in the book are kept up-to-date. If the book’s aims was to start a conversation, the blog and Twitter seek to keep the flame of debate burning strong. If the book’s modus operandi was to make money or score a political point, the desire, no need, to keep updating, commenting and reviewing on a regular basis – for free – on Twitter and blogs just wouldn’t be necessary.
That pure passion. The passion of a professional willing to spend hours of their own time to write a blog post completely unpaid to explain in simple yet technical detail why Tommy Robinson’s contempt of court charge and later appeal (6) matters and to sift out the legal fact from the inevitable Twitter storm speaks volumes to me about their motivations.
Does this book deserve such a long blog?
Yes. Seriously, go buy this book already.
The book excellently conveys all that is wrong about our legal system in England & Wales in 2018. The fact the book needs nearly 350 pages is testament to all that we need to be angry about, irrespective of where you are on the political spectrum. It will make you laugh at the absurdity of it all and the poor SB’s experiences of it all at times, through to inspiring passion to want to go down the Dog and Duck and complain loudly about everything you’ve just read to all and sundry.
There is lots to be optimistic about as well, and SB forensically looks into the England & Wales Criminal legal system and looks to see if an alternative system would work better. I won’t spoil their conclusion but it shows how our system can work wonderfully when it works well.
The conclusion: from my interpretation of the book, many of the problems currently experienced can be traced back to Austerity and some of the knock on effects it has caused. It’s inevitable to say therefore that investments in courts, the CPS, police and the legal profession would make a significant difference, and indeed is necessary to ensure that criminal justice continues to be enacted with all the due rigour and process that we silently depend on to keep society stable. Such demand for extra investment needs to be balanced with other cries of necessary investment in the NHS, teaching, infrastructure and many more besides.
But with this book the Secret Barrister seeks to ensure that Justice does roll of the tongue in areas needing investment along with the more visible and emotive candidates such as the NHS and teaching and others besides. And they bloody well deserve it to.
This is my first blog post for a couple of years, and the first since I’ve reinvented this blog. It’s on a subject I expected to write about, but one I felt compelled to write about. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings on this post, and on any subjects you want me to write about in the future. Many thanks to you all.
In the interests of transparency, I am not being paid to write this blog or am I being sponsored or the such like by the Secret Barrister etc etc. This blog is a post of passion from someone else who gets geekily excited by the law and as someone who wants to make a difference as a result of the book. Spreading the word seems like a good place to start.
- The reason my career shifted is due to the sheer amounts of reading – of legislation and case law as well as legal theory – would have represented a huge ongoing challenge to how my brain naturally operates. Numbers is more my way of thinking, so studying Accountancy with Law and being able to dip my toes into law while keeping my numbers head very much alive, was infinitely the wisest decision I could have taken.
- “Ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson jailed at Leeds court” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-44287640, retrieved 10 August 2018.
- Quite why I was seeking a sensible discussion on such a complex subject on Twitter in 2018 is anyone’s guess.
- “What on earth happened to poor Tommy Robinson? 10 Things You Should Know:” https://thesecretbarrister.com/2018/05/25/what-has-happened-to-poor-tommy-robinson/, retrieved 10 August 2018.
- Apologies, I thought writing ‘The Secret Barrister’ over and over again was getting for overly-complex readabilty and hence the shorthand.
- “The Tommy Robinson judgment – what does it all mean?” https://thesecretbarrister.com/2018/08/01/the-tommy-robinson-judgment-what-does-it-all-mean/ , retrieved 10 August 2018.