Medical memoirs such as This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay have vividly illustrated the highs and lows of working in the National Health Service and the importance of funding it properly. The Secret Barrister, an anonymous junior barrister practicing in London, now lifts the lid on the realities of the English and Welsh criminal justice system in ‘Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken’.
As you would expect, The Secret Barrister is extremely articulate and persuasive in the way that he or she presents the damning case of how the legal system is broken and specifically how funding cuts have exacerbated existing problems across the board for the myriad of people involved in it including magistrates, solicitors, complainants, defendants and, of course, barristers. Some passages are quite long-winded with a lot of historical background and statistics, requiring a great deal of concentration on the part of the reader to absorb all the facts. However, it is necessary to set out the full picture of the system which is a complicated maze to navigate even at the best of times for those who have a decent grasp of the legal world from the inside, let alone the most vulnerable people in society who are more likely to be caught up in it with life-changing consequences. Yet the Secret Barrister reminds the reader that anyone can have their life turned upside down in the blink of an eye either as a victim, witness or defendant, not to mention finding themselves tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in debt if they are not eligible to receive legal aid.
The Secret Barrister shows all the frustrating parts of the criminal justice system that TV crime dramas and tabloid newspapers rarely acknowledge, whether it’s waiting around all day only for the trial to be adjourned at the last minute when a courtroom fails to become available or dispelling the myths about how much barristers and solicitors really earn. While I would like to think that detailed scrutiny lies at the heart of the law, it is apparent that time pressures, contradictions and bureaucratic blockages mean that there is often not enough time for the collection and careful examination of the evidence that cases require.
The chapters are structured in the format of a criminal case with plenty of colourful examples to illustrate the serious points made here and bring the technical detail to life. The cross-examination of Mr. Tuttle, accused of assaulting his blind neighbour and claiming he acted in self-defence, is amusingly absurd on the face of it with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour, but many aspects are equally horrifying. The same goes for the criminal justice system as a whole, and the Secret Barrister should be applauded for bringing this to light and hopefully correcting some widespread misconceptions along the way. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.