Okay, I'm not going to beat around the bush here. There are some books in life that you just have to read. It's a list that has been covered many times, in many places. But I'm going to suggest that there's now a book that needs to be added to that list. And this is the one. "The Secret Barrister, Stories of the Law and How It's Broken."
Just briefly, I myself am an ex criminal defence paralegal. I've been out of the game for ten years, now, having given up in 2008. I'd worked in criminal defence for various firms of solicitors, since 1997. In 1998, I began training as a legal executive specialising in criminal law and gradually became a rather good paralegal. From there, I also trained as an Accredited Police Station Representative. From all the usual case-working duties in office (attending clients to consider advance disclosure and advise on plea, to taking statements, instructing experts, instructing counsel, attending site-visits, taking witness statements and generally ensuring that all administrative issues were dealt with) I progressed to focusing more on representing suspects in police custody. And I was good at it. I know I was.
It all came crashing down, however, due to ill health, brought on quite probably, by stress. By 2004, I knew that I was suffering with chronic depression and that was how I lost my first job. I took some time out, tried to recoup, and had another shot at it. But it wasn't to be. My mental health had taken a significant bashing, and I walked out of my last job in criminal law in 2008. I haven't been back to it since.
I miss it, truth be told. The passion for it hasn't left me. I see it all carrying on without me, and I'm envious. But the criminal justice system has long been at the shitty end of the stick when it comes to government spending priority. So the desire to see the system improve is still deeply ingrained in me, and I'm still antagonised by knowing how it's suffered at the hands of misreporting, cost-slashing and a general lack of understanding.
When I see lawyers being forced to strike because the cuts being made to legal aid are so savage that the very concept of access to justice is under threat, it makes my blood boil. When I see people slating criminal lawyers for being greedy fat-cats by people who've swallowed the tripe of misreporting, and believe that lawyers already earn more than enough from the public purse, it makes my blood boil.
So thank fuck for The Secret Barrister. Because what this book does is demonstrate in no uncertain terms the threat that the justice system in this country is under. And more than that... because this book isn't just about defence lawyers. It's about the terrifying failures within the court system and the Crown Prosecution Service. All avoidable failures brought about by the same misguided methods of saving costs.
This book is one of those books that shows us how the justice system is so fundamentally important to the whole of our society. The stories told within it are stories that reveal the deeply troubling reality about how justice operates in our society, how it fails defendants, victims and witnesses. And how, ultimately, that fails the whole of society.
In essence, it sounds like one of those things that people say to big something up, but it is no exaggeration to remark that I consider this to be one of the most important non-fiction books published in recent times.
I really do.
The Secret Barrister writes with a passion and longing for the fairness that should be at the heart of our system, whilst relaying the (disguised) details of everyday cases bungled in extraordinary ways, thanks to the hit the system has taken. There's a passion at the heart of the withering wit, too, which whilst being funny, also serves to shine a light on the frustrating nature of these experiences.
I've been saying for a long time that when the consideration of savings comes before the consideration of ensuring justice is done right, then you know we're up shit creek.
As an ex paralegal, I advise you to read this book.