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on 15 December 2013
It is a must to read for those who want to know the legal system and it is sooooo funny!
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on 29 September 2013
I was expecting some interesting court cases but gave up reading it about the halfway mark due to it being just too boring
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2011
Public fascination with crime and the criminal system has existed for centuries and shows no sign of abating. From Boyd QC in the 1950s to Kavanagh QC forty years later, television audiences have lapped up ideas of the barrister expertly dissecting the opposition's case to reveal the truth and deliver justice to all. If only! Some barristers can only be trusted only as far as they can be thrown. The thrice married George Carman had a reputation as a successful, if expensive, silk whose fellow barristers thought damaged the law by turning the courtroom into a theatre in which he was the leading player.

Historically, English criminal law is based on common law, determined by judicial decisions which create precedents for later cases. Since the mid-sixties the House of Lords in its appellate capacity have had the power to over-rule their own precedents, although they have so reluctantly. Most criminal cases are dealt with in magistrates' courts. McBride writes of Northampton magistrates, "I hated Northampton. I hated their magistrates, whom I unfairly dismissed as small-time semi-worthies with provincial outlooks. I got convicted every time." He under-estimates magistrates' good sense in weighing the evidence, accept input from the legal adviser (some of whom are qualified barristers) and work within the sentencing guidelines. His conviction rate was probably caused by his clients' guilt.

McBride about the development of trial by jury which took place after the Fourth Lateran Council and Pope Innocent 111 banned trial by ordeal. Jurors could serve on what became known as the grand jury to determine if a charge should be brought and the petty jury which listened to the evidence at trial. Conflict between the verdict the judges wanted and that delivered by the jury was not uncommon. In 1670 a jury refused to convict Quakers, William Penn and Thomas Mead, of a criminal offence and were fined by the court for bringing in an "unjust verdict" . Those who refused were sent to prison. Presented with a writ of habeas corpus Chief Justice Vaughan released them stating that a juror could not be fined for his verdict reached in good faith. The ruling limited the state's ability to act without restraint and reserved the verdict of guilt or innocence to the jury.

McBride provides an excellent account of courtroom proceedings, explaining what happens but spicing it with information which introduces uncertainty even in cases involving DNA evidence. Regrettably, the courts have proved unable to distinguish between expert opinion and guesswork. Sir Roy Meadow's claim that the likelihood of Sally Clark's two children dying of cot death was 1:73,000,000 was adjudged by the Court of Appeal not to have had any significant effect on the jury's 10-2 decision. Clark was eventually released when it emerged the prosecution had not disclosed information which suggested that at least one of the children could have died from natural causes. Clark herself died from alcoholic poisoning four years after her release. Meadow never admitted his error despite the release of several women who had been convicted by his tainted evidence. Only the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal, which kept Clark's name on the solicitors' roll while she was in prison, came out with their credibility intact.

Miscarriages of justice are not new. In 1896 Adolph Beck was sentenced to seven years penal servitude on the evidence of a dozen witnesses who positively identified him. One witness was a police officer who provided written evidence that Beck was John Smith who had been convicted of similar offences in 1877. Beck was easily picked out of a police lineup as he was the only person with grey hair and a moustache. Although it was quickly established that Beck was not Smith the trial judge would not overturn the verdict and Beck's 1901 release on parole was down to public pressure. Three years later Beck was found guilty of a similar offence by a jury convinced by positive identification from five female witnesses. Luckily for Beck he was in prison awaiting sentence when John Smith (real name Wilhelm Meyer) was apprehended. Beck was released and, in 1904, was granted a free pardon and financially compensated. The case called into question the reliability of eyewitness evidence and ultimately led to the establishment of the Appeal court.

The rivalries that exist between barristers are an essential part of climbing the greasy pole but does not necessarily achieve justice. In 1994 Bruce Grobbelaar was cleared of match-fixing and successfully sued the Sun newspaper, represented by George Carman, for libel. He was awarded £85,000. The paper (part of Rudolph Murdoch's News Corporation) appealed and won, the Court of Appeal judging the original decision to be perverse. The House of Lords confirmed the Appeal Court's ruling stating Grobbelaar had been involved in a deal to fix certain matches, although there was no evidence he actually fixed any matches. Grobbelaar's award was reduced to £1 and he was ordered to pay the Sun's legal expenses amounting to £500,000. Grobbelaar was given permission to take out an injuction against the Sun prohibiting it from stating he had fixed matches but leaving it free to claim he had tried to. The jury's decision was discounted, Grobbelaar was bankrupted and the law was still an ass.

McBride writes in the manner of a modern comedian for whom foul language is a substitute for quality. If this is how barristers talk to - or about - each other the legal profession really is on the downward path to the gutter. Despite its many good features the English legal system tends to stutter because of interference from politicians. The introduction of case management procedures has speeded up the judicial process leading to less cracked cases but lawyers, on the whole, are mercenaries for whom pro bono work is anathema. A useful guide to further reading but no index. Four stars.
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on 9 December 2015
great insight into justice in the uk
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on 11 June 2015
Very handy for anyone studying Law
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on 18 February 2016
A very well written book, from a man who truly seems to believe in the integrity of justice!

An insight into the world of defence counsel, and of the prosecution! Well worth the read!
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on 16 March 2015
cant wait to read it
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on 5 June 2013
The book is very interesting to read if you are interested in becoming a barrister. The book itself explains and helps you to learn ways to defend someone who is guilty of a crime and shows you that even the most guilty can be defended.
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on 7 April 2011
I agree with Gareth Wilson (my fellow reviewer). Alex McBride comes across as infuriatingly smug. On page 30 he also makes himself look sillier than one would have thought humanly possible. He says that barristers are so badly (and irregularly) paid that holidays and savings are simply out of the question.
Are we really expected to believe this?
Numerous serveys over the past decade reveal consistently that around 70 percent of barristers were privately educated and that you need to be very well off indeed to pay to get into chambers in the first place. I know half a dozen barristers. All but one send their children to extremely expensive private schools (presumably so they too can become barristers) so why are we expected to believe this stupid nonsense about the grinding poverty of those called to the bar?
On the plus side the book is a good account of our crazy legal system,a system in which barristers simply want to win (regardless of the truth) and if they can get a client off - even if he is a mass murderer - they are delighted.
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on 26 September 2013
I was disappointed in this book. I thought there may have been some funny and memorable anecdotes but instead found it rather boring. I kept expecting it to better as I read further into it but no it just didn't take off.
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