For most, criminal justice is either a misrepresented component of television drama or a vague notion of an arcane, almost medieval practice with dubious outcome. The Secret Barrister does for criminal justice what Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm did for medicine, a tour-de-force of lived experience and knowledge, revealing the hidden cracks in our legal crown. With its injustices and anger, humour and sorrow, this powerful indictment of the British justice system emerges as one of the year’s truly necessary releases.
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. Occasionally, chunks of prose do feel as though they’d begun life as discrete blog posts, but this immensely impressive volume manages to make a subject that is bleak and dry utterly compelling.
But what’s so powerful about The Secret Barrister is its ability to connect the dots – from changes to something as seemingly mundane as criminal procedure rules, to the state of prisons – revealing a picture that is more a commentary on society as a whole than it is on robing rooms full of horsehair wigs... But at its deepest level, it is not about the criminal justice system at all. The Secret Barrister writes about our idea of ourselves as a nation, an England still so confident in its principles and workings of democracy and justice.
The message of this entertaining book is delivered with great skill. It’s true that I am a long-serving chorister being preached to by my local priest, but with the evidence laid out, I was surprised again and again at how damaged the system is. The book is at once a lament and a celebration. It tells us that the liberty of the individual depends on us regarding the justice system as not just for criminals and victims but for all of us — it is the symbol of our nation’s humanity.