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The Secret Barrister
Stories of the Law and How It's Broken
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
Winner of the Books are My Bag Non-Fiction Award
Shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year
Shortlisted for Specsavers Non-Fiction Book of the Year
'Eye-opening, damning and hilarious' Tim Shipman, author of All Out War and Fall Out
"I'm a barrister, a job which requires the skills of a social worker, relationship counsellor, arm-twister, hostage negotiator, named driver, bus fare-provider, accountant, suicide watchman, coffee-supplier, surrogate parent and, on one memorable occasion, whatever the official term is for someone tasked with breaking the news to a prisoner that his girlfriend has been diagnosed with gonorrhoea."
Welcome to the world of the Secret Barrister. These are the stories of life inside the courtroom. They are sometimes funny, often moving and ultimately life-changing.
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 criminals to the lawyers, the victims, witnesses and officers of the law, here is the best and worst of humanity, all struggling within a broken 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.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
NOW OUT IN PAPERBACK!
ARE THE CRIMINAL COURTS FLAWED? SERIOUSLY?
‘THE SECRET BARRISTER’ TELLS IT LIKE IT IS… NOW OUT IN PAPERBACK
An appreciation by Elizabeth Robson Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers and Phillip Taylor MBE, Head of Chambers and Reviews Editor, “The Barrister”
This is a book that is destined to become a classic. Everybody’s read it — just about — at least those in legal circles or claims to have read it. And if you’ll excuse the cliche, it seems to have ruffled more than a few feathers. But all the better. As a scathing expose of the most conspicuous flaws in the criminal justice system in England and Wales,’ The Secret Barrister’ can safely be described as unique.
Certainly, the power of the book derives overwhelmingly from the personal experiences and insights of its author, ‘the secret barrister.’
The anecdotes in it and the homely analogies range from the hilarious to the horrific. And as any barrister can tell you, whether practising in the criminal or civil courts, the revelations it contains are authentic. Although some readers (but not many) might disagree with some of the opinions expressed, the book has undoubtedly been a publishing sensation for its publisher, Macmillan, and Picador.
The focus of the book is the criminal — rather than the civil — justice system and all those connected with it; from judges and magistrates to the court staff and the defendants themselves, not to mention the state of most of the court buildings; some growing old gracefully, others positively decrepit, but not quite crumbling into the dust just yet.
Naturally there’s been a lot of speculation about who the ‘secret barrister’ is, with some barristers suspecting - because of the sheer number and variety of cases discussed - that this secretive, publicity-shy individual is more than one person. Nonetheless, the secret of the authorship of this book is a lot less important than what’s written in it.
‘I can understand,’ says our secret author, ‘why people might only think of criminal justice in the abstract,’ never anticipating any personal involvement in it, or having any familiarity with it whatsoever, except through watching courtroom dramas on TV.
Big mistake, implies the author who warns, speculatively at least, that… ‘it is certain that at one point in your life, you or someone you love will be in a criminal courtroom’, whether as a juror, witness, or victim, or possibly even worse, someone accused of something you didn’t do.
What you or anyone in any of these situations will hope for, or expect, is fairness, which according to this passionately disillusioned lawyer, is sometimes in short supply. One example is the way some magistrates tend to prefer to believe police testimony rather than that of the defendant, even when supported by several witnesses. In the words of the author, the book’s basic aim is ‘to explore why criminal justice matters and to show how I think we are getting it so wrong.’
Offering much to contemplate and get furious about, the book will resonate equally with civil court practitioners, particularly over such annoyances as, says the author, ‘the matter of court listings (which) take little account of barristers’ availability’ — and on occasions when they do, there’s a climate of chaos, delay and adjournments ‘that often conspire to make you unavailable.’
And what about the now quite commonplace practice (or is it a necessity?) of switching cases from one court to another, with little or no notice given to the participants in a case, namely the lawyers and their bewildered clients who - on the same day - have to scramble into cars or public transport to reach the ‘correct’ court, which is usually miles away on the other side of town, or often in another town altogether.
To put these matters in some sort of perspective, it is fair to say that no human institution is perfect. But it’s not good to have too many imperfections either. What is alarming about this book is that someone felt compelled to write it in the first place; someone who felt compelled to conceal his or her identity.
But secret or not, the author is quite obviously a barrister, which does give the book its immediacy, authenticity and clout. While most people will live out their lives without coming up against the criminal justice system, the rule of law impacts on everyone and anything serious that threatens it is not a good thing.
Recall for example, that the number of prosecutions has been reduced by about half. So how much criminal activity is going unchecked to the detriment of public safety? It has also been announced that the overall budget for the Ministry of Justice, has been cut by 40%.
These are serious issues and it is encouraging that so many readers have come to view such developments with concern just by reading this book.
Good thing that ‘The Secret Barrister’ is now out in paperback from 4th April 2019.
Both shocking and moving, but most of all I found in it a burning desire to make our justice system work properly for everyone. -- Daniel Zeichner MP This is a campaigning book, written by a true advocate, and thanks to an initiative by the Criminal Bar Association, every MP has received a free copy. They need to read it and take action. -- Francis FitzGibbon * LRB * The Secret Barrister is published at a time of turmoil for the English justice system . . . it is a broadside against a justice system of pervasive inefficiencies; unrelenting adjournments; beleaguered lawyers and court users treated with a carelessness tantamount to contempt . . . but with humility and compassion, this book helps us to see why the rights of those whom we love to hate are sacred. A panoptic account of its subject, measured and forensic throughout, The Secret Barrister is the signal in a world of noise on justice matters and - it is hoped - a spur to action -- Kapil Summan * Scottish Legal News * A very good book for anyone who has an interest in the machinations and history of the British criminal justice system, and even if you don't it is still highly interesting. A great factual history but presented in an easy to understand style that allows scrutiny of every nook and cranny of the subject. Both enlightening and entertaining, and what more could you want from a book? * Inside Time * This insider's account of a malfunctioning legal system close to breaking point would be funny if it weren't so frightening. * Daily Mail * The Secret Barrister says we should be outraged at the state of our criminal justice system, which has been devastated by legal aid cuts and is staffed by demoralised and underpaid barristers. When justice is under threat, it is bad news for everyone. * The Times, The best nonfiction to read on holiday this summer * The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How it's Broken is an eye-opening, funny and horrifying look at the criminal justice system, perfect for reading sections out and disrupting the lives of those around you who are "just trying to have a nice time". -- Evie Wyld * Guardian, Best summer books 2018 * Indispensable * Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times - on The Secret Barrister Blog * Completely riveting . . . it reveals the good and bad in human beings * The Bookseller - One to Watch * One of the legal blogosphere's hottest properties * The Times on The Secret Barrister Blog * Essential reading for those in, and outside, the law * The Criminal Bar Association * The blogger's much-anticipated book is a rallying cry against short sighted governments and an apathetic public...With clarity and eloquence the dozen angry, passionate, frustrated chapters shout their unanimous and damning verdict on a system "close to breaking point"...the book certainly deserves a wider audience * The Brief, The Times * I've read an absolutely amazing, gripping book by The Secret Barrister...it's a bestselling book which is spread, I think, by word of mouth, about their experiences as a criminal barrister...I found it incredibly informative, a must read -- <b>Ed Miliband</b>, <i>Reasons to be Cheerful </i>podcast Powerful points are expressed in a funny but penetrating way: the barrister weaves personal experience with his or her most memorable cases and clients...after you've chuckled to yourself, it forces you to reflect on its real meaning * Prospect Magazine * `Follow[s] the life of a criminal trial, from charge through to appeal, dispelling myths, righting wrongs and telling anecdotes . . . The book is impeccably researched, and the arguments are backed to the nines with statistics and worked examples. Laid out calmly, the facts do what facts should do, but often don't: they clarify and convince. The Secret Barrister's book is a call to arms: a desperate, last-ditch attempt to open the eyes of those outside the profession to the injustices which exist within our justice system. Yet it remains an optimistic book, offering answers and solutions . . . this immensely impressive volume manages to make a subject that is bleak and dry utterly compelling . . . The Secret Barrister describes this system as a `sausage factory' of justice. No one wants to see how the sausage gets made - but we all should.' * Spectator * A brilliant but deeply disturbing book. Using the legal cases of real people, it shows how our criminal justice system is so broken, the innocent end up behind bars while the guilty walk free -- <b>Caroline Lucas</b>, MP for Brighton Pavilion and Co-leader of the Green Party Wickedly funny and deadly serious, this brilliant book is an essential read for anyone who cares about justice, fairness and equality before the law. If you felt these things were safe, the Secret Barrister will leave you stunned and aghast at a criminal justice system absolutely broken by cuts across the board, frequently dishing out a travesty of justice. Impassioned, searing and utterly compelling -- <b>Rachel Clarke, </b>author of <i>Your Life in My Hands</i> I suggest that the Leader of the House and all members of the Government read the book by the Secret Barrister * Valerie Vaz, MP, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons * An expert and eloquent account of much that has gone wrong with our criminal law procedures: this book is accurate, informative and sensibly points the way to pragmatic reforms -- <b>Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of <i>The Justice Game</i></b> What's so powerful about The Secret Barrister is its ability to connect the dots...revealing a picture that is more a commentary on society as a whole than it is on robing rooms full of horsehair wigs -- <b>Afua Hirsch</b> * Guardian * Dishes the dirt - or serves up a slice of reality - on what barristers do * The Times * Stories of The Law and How It's Broken is mordantly clear, chillingly well-observed and terrifyingly funny. I have rarely read a book that filled me with greater fury. Read this, give it to friends, share the Secret Barrister's testimony with strangers - it's a rare and righteous thing -- <b>A.L.Kennedy, Booker-listed author of <i>Serious Sweet</i></b> Its stories of how the law often fails those whom it is meant to protect - how do barristers feel when someone they believe to be innocent gets banged up for five years? - make for gripping reading. -- <b>John Crace</b> * The Guardian * Funny, angry, mordant, social satire, reform manifesto - The Secret Barrister offers them all in this legal tour de force. Told through often heart-rending stories of victims and victors in a game of legal roulette, a quest for decency and proper standards of legal service shines through the bleakness. If the Secret Barrister has her or his way, it might happen a bit more often. Read this book, hope and pray -- <b>Andrew Adonis</b> Funny, frightening, frequently infuriating but above all profoundly human. As a sensitive and knowledgeable storyteller, the Secret Barrister does for lawyers what James Herriot did for vets -- <b>James O'Brien</b> Behold, the book that got me through jury service! A timely and accessible look at today's UK court system, this is a no nonsense explainer on how things work, very much don't work, and how we got here. Who knew that educating yourself about, for example, the history of magistrates, could be so much fun? -- <b>Alexandra Heminsley</b>, <i>The Pool</i> If you have not already met The Secret Barrister, he or she makes an entertaining and acerbic holiday companion for those who don't switch off their brains in summer -- Hilary Mantel * Guardian, Best Summer Books 2018 * An illuminating and timely insight into the legal system, transforming arcane practice into accessible and fascinating anecdote * Sunday Express * Fluently and engagingly written...a copy of this book should be placed on the desk of every judge, every trainee lawyer, every would-be lawyer, every politician, and every minister responsible for the legal system * The Literary Review * The unfolding calamity in our criminal justice system is best told in The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken. This angry yet forensic analysis from first arrest to prison is a gripping front-line view by an anonymous, lowly criminal barrister. Read and rage at evidence that "every day the provably guilty walk free", while the hapless needlessly end up in jail. -- Polly Toynbee * Guardian * A sensation beyond lawyers' circles. The Secret Barrister is an anguished, detailed polemic by an anonymous current practitioner about how dangerously flawed, fragile and underfunded our famed legal system has become . . . an SOS, a desperate and cogent call for action and resources before the justice system, and our faith in it, collapses . . . I hope the arguments . . . will resonate widely - and that the government will act on them before it is too late. -- Jenni Russell * Sunday Times * This excellent book will hopefully raise awareness of what has been, until now, a silent crisis. It is at once a vicious polemic, a helpful primer and a cringe-inducing account of one barrister's travails * Daily Telegraph * Terrifying and occasionally hilarious... this is an eye-opening, if depressing, account of the practice of law today. Perhaps there is hope, but the author leaves us in no doubt that urgent reform is needed * The Observer * Takes the reader deep into the bowels of the criminal justice system...the message of this entertaining book is delivered with great skill...the book is at once a lament and a celebration...the justice system as not just for criminals and victims but for all of us - it is the symbol of our nation's humanity * The Times * The Secret Barrister can write...everyone who has any interest in public life should read it...this is a book of some brilliance, clearly explained, cogently argued * Daily Mail * By turns eye-opening, damning and hilarious, the secret barrister lifts the lid on a legal system where the system, the politicians, the lack of funding and sometimes the judges are the real villains and the victims are all of us -- Tim Shipman, author of <i>Fall Out</i> and <i>All Out War</i>