The Secret Barrister by the apparently anonymous author The Secret Barrister
opens with some outline information about the author, the book and the criminal justice system. Written by a barrister it considers of the subject of justice over time and across countries. It also looks at the general strengths and weaknesses of the English justice system and others. In fairness I found the opening chapters somewhat dry for a “person in the street” reader.
However, as I read on, I found that my interest and views on the book altered. The chapters are well laid out and looks at the legal process from Magistrates Courts through Bail and Remand to Trial and Sentencing. During the course of this it also looks at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Victims of the law and the myth of Legal Aid. I confess once the topic of “victims” came up the book became far more alive and real to me. This felt like something I could understand. From there on I did find the book both interesting and revealing. Some aspects I was already aware of through the news for example. While the changes to Legal Aid highlighted by the author were introduced without fuss (!!) they were reported on. Equally there has been considerable press interest in the CPS of late so that the issues highlighted there were not that surprising (although rather horrifying),
There is a sense in which this can feel like a whinge about all that is wrong with the “system”. Such things tend to be quite headline grabbing and raise their heads (and the profile of the problem sometimes) from time to time. The NHS, the police, the prison system and others tend to feature usually however I don’t think I have come across one relating to the law in a readable way before. That makes this book a little unusual at least. Written by an apparent insider, it has fairly extensive and valid references to back up some of the positions as far as I could tell.
Ultimately I’m not certain I know who The Secret Barrister is aimed at. I think the subtitle of the book “Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken” is slightly misleading. There are stories of cases handled by the author however there are relatively few of them. They are used to illustrate the concepts in the chapters rather than being simply stories. I notice some reviewers consider this book “hilarious”; I did smile from time to time but little more than that.
I’m not quite sure who this aimed at – is it trying to get a message over to someone? Is it simply trying to be dramatic? It certainly offers valid evidence into the idea that there is much wrong with the justice system in England currently. The author in his “Closing Speech” offers some thoughts on where improvements might be made. Funding is obviously an issue as it is in many public services. I fully agree with his point that the Law in its broadest sense should be taught to people at school – the ignorance (mine included at times) does no service to the enhancement of the system. I also appreciated his point about “Justice being done, being seen to be done and being able to be understood”. The lack of clarity/consistency and plain common sense in areas such as sentencing simply makes bad news headlines inevitable. There are many important issues in this book. It deserves to be widely read and reflected on – I enjoyed reading The Secret Barrister.
Note – I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review