This week I have had two articles published: one in the Times, about the Kavanaugh nomination and the unreliability of evidence of ‘demeanour’; the other in the London Review of Books – a review of the Secret Barrister and an account of the deplorable state of our criminal courts and publicly funded justice in general. The LRB piece originally had a section about Sarah Langford’s marvellous In Your Defence, for which there was not enough space, so here is what I wrote about it:
Sarah Langford writes in her own name, and describes in detail eleven anonymised cases in which she has appeared – three in family law, the rest in crime. She describes how she has advocated for her clients, but she also steps back to give a more complete account of the all-too-human stories that lie, for example, behind a bitter fight over who gets the children in a divorce, or what drives a young man to admit an offence he has not committed. Langford speaks of her own occasional misgivings about her role and the function she fulfils in a compromised system of justice – her candour and the depth of her humanity are unusual in a profession in which few of us have the time or inclination to reflect before the next case comes along. Her book is not confessional, but it gives an intimate and true account of the challenges that a thoughtful and sensitive person faces in her line of work.
Each of these books ought to shock those who know little of our system of criminal and family justice. They might end up agreeing with Robert Conquest that to understand how an institution works, you should assume that it is run by a cabal of its enemies. These books show where things have gone wrong, but they also show something of the calibre of the people who keep it going by refusing to let its enemies triumph.