By Kit Roberts
IN the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More, played by Philip Schofield, declares that “Yes, I’d give the Devil the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
It is a criticism sometimes levelled at the legal profession that they will sound the death knell of democracy at the slightest hint of anything which might chip away, however minutely, at the principles of law which underpin it.
They are, supposedly, worried about nothing. The roots of our institutions run deep, and are more than capable of withstanding such minutiae.
The fact is that a liberal democracy, with all its attendant institutions, rights, and privileges, is not something that can be simply left on autopilot and assumed to function when required.
It requires constant maintenance, defence, and improvement to brace it against the eroding currents of opportunistic politicians and sensationalist headlines.
This does not just require work from the professionals whose job it is to ensure this, the judges, barristers, solicitors, and, ideally, journalists. It needs it from everyone who has a stake in ensuring that justice is carried out fairly and properly. In short, everyone living, dead, and not yet born.
Speaking to Redaction Politics, The Secret Barrister outlined their reasons for writing ‘Fake Law’.
“With Fake Law, I wanted to try to bridge the disconnect between the justice system and the people it serves,” they said.
“I worry that we are in dangerous times for the rule of law, with politicians spreading misinformation and untruths about the legal system and how it functions, in order to advance their own narrow interests.
“Too often we see people bamboozled or conned into cheering for reforms which erode their own rights, and make them vulnerable to the overreach of the state. I hope that, by addressing some of the more popular myths head on, I might be able to equip people to spot when stories about the law are being used against them.”
‘Fake Law’ was published before Boris Johnson’s government decided to openly declare its intent to break international law in the House of Commons. The book’s cry for public understanding and education being paramount to protecting ourselves could scarcely have come at a more needful moment.
The Secret Barrister outlines in rigorous but accessible terms the challenges facing law in the twenty-first century. Through a selection of examples in which the law is misrepresented and even manipulated, they reveal a system in jeopardy.
This is all done in clear, thoughtful, and engaging prose which itself dispels the idea that the law need be opaque. The book engages with deep moral and legal questions in a way which appreciates their complexity without descending into overly technical language.
It doesn’t stop there either. Starting from the ground up, SB elegantly dissects the processes and institutions that underpin our legal system. Cases which were grossly misrepresented are given clarity. Amidst all the satisfying debunking of legal myths, there is also a sobering reminder of the law’s fragility if not properly looked after.
We now live in a country where judges have to take out security for their own protection after being branded “enemies of the people”, and campaigns of disinformation are becoming so widespread that people applaud measures that strip them of their legal rights.
This book’s gentle(ish) chastisement of certain elements of the press is a reminder to myself and my profession of our power to aid or hinder the integrity of our legal system. We are part of the problem and the solution both.
Perhaps the most grave consequence of this misinformation is the othering of the law. Our willingness to relinquish our legal rights is created by the distortion of egregious cases to suit political agenda.
The biggest lie of all is the government’s repeated assertion that defending the law is a politically motivated act. We are told that lawyers are activists out to push their agenda against democratically mandated officials, and by extension democracy itself.
The best remedy for this kind of lie, the Secret Barrister argues, is education. For an antidote to the rumours and lies we are all confronted with every day, you could do a lot worse than reading ‘Fake Law’.
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