THE ADVOCATE 109
VOL. 77 PART 1 JANUARY 2019
against the “mission creep” that has shifted the focus away from protecting
rights and the rule of law and towards “getting numbers through the door”:
… what is happening in these courts is not justice. It is not, as the Criminal
Procedure Rules proudly proclaim to be their ‘overriding objective’,
acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty. It’s getting numbers
through the door and out again, as inexpensively and swiftly as possible.
It’s roulette framed as justice …3
A related theme is the harm caused by underfunding of the justice system.
The secret barrister rails against “warped spending priorities where
politicians persuade voters that one penny off a pint of lager is a better
investment than a working justice system”4 and laments a political system
in which everyone knows all too well that “no one gets elected promising a
better justice system.”5 The author posits that it is not those within the justice
system that are fuelling its collapse, but rather those outside the system.
Thus, “Today’s danger is not the actors, but the director; the state moving
the pieces and pulling the strings”.6
The secret barrister observes that despite the ramshackle state of the
criminal justice system, nobody pauses to notice “the bodies of adjourned
cases piling up in the court corridors, or the regular denial of justice to victims
of domestic violence, or the indignities doled out to all—witnesses,
defendants, jurors—who involuntarily encounter the system and are
expected to bend to its vicious incompetence and caprice.”7 It would appear,
the author suggests, that the collapse of the criminal justice system is only
visible to those who are living it.
But the book is not all doom and gloom. The secret barrister takes heart
in the bedrock principles on which the English justice system is premised.
These principles include the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair
trial, the independence of the judiciary and the right to independent legal
representation—all principles which have been embraced throughout common
law jurisdictions and which have withstood the test of time. The secret
barrister also pays homage to those who are determined to make the system
better, including many hardworking police officers, prosecutors, barristers,
solicitors, judges, magistrates and court staff.
The Secret Barrister has been a smash hit in the U.K. After its publication
in March 2018, it quickly found its way onto several bestseller lists, including
that of the venerable Sunday Times. It has been celebrated as a frank and
gripping account of the issues plaguing the criminal justice system in England
and Wales. In fact, the book has garnered so much praise and attention
that the Criminal Bar Association and Young Legal Aid Lawyers launched a
successful crowdfunding campaign to raise sufficient funds to send a copy
of the text to all 650 U.K. MPs.8