Canadian Lawyer

November/December 2019

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 13 of 71

OPINION LEGAL ETHICS 14 A BOOK recently published in the United Kingdom has created a sensation in that nation's legal and political circles. The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken describes the dysfunction of the U.K.'s criminal justice system. The anonymous author calls himself (or herself; we don't know which) "The Secret Barrister." The Guardian newspaper calls the book "a plea to rescue a justice system that has become utterly broken." The Spectator magazine said the "immensely impressive" account was "a desperate, last-ditch attempt to open the eyes of those outside the profession to the injustices which exist within our justice system." The Daily Mail described the book as " . . . of some brilliance, clearly explained, cogently argued . . . Its main distinguishing quality, though, is its absolute reasonableness . . . " Stories of the Law and How It's Broken was a Sunday Times top-10 bestseller for 24 weeks, selling more than 250,000 copies. A copy was given to every member of the U.K. parliament, financed by a crowdfunding campaign. This is a big book raising big ethical issues. The Secret Barrister argues that a criminal justice system collapses when government funding is inadequate. Many of the U.K. system's failings, they say, betray "warped spending priorities whereby politicians persuade voters that 1p [pence] off a pint of lager is a better investment than a working justice system." (Sound familiar?) When there is not enough money, the guilty go free, the innocent are imprisoned and the victims of crime are ignored or abused. "Serious criminal cases collapse on a daily basis because of eminently avoidable failings by underfunded and understaffed police and prosecution services . . . The bottom line is that victims of crime are denied justice, and people who are not guilty find themselves in prison." The criminal justice system is in the hands of the state, but, says the Secret Barrister, these are unsafe hands. Most of us think that the state is competent to Is the criminal justice system broken? The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken describes a U.K. justice system in need of repair find the truth and that it will be neutral in seeking it. These assumptions, she writes, are "dangerously untenable." State competence and impartiality are myths. Incompetence, error, recklessness and malice prevail. In a degraded criminal justice system, the lives of innocent people are easily ruined. If you are not guilty and spend time in prison before your innocence is established, "everything you have built over the course of a lifetime . . . is suddenly, without notice,

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