Reviewed by: David Pickup
Author: James Wilson
Publisher: Wildy, Simmonds & Hill
ISBN: 9780854901258
Price: £14.99

I wonder if the era of the great advocate has disappeared. Not many barristers, and even fewer solicitors, are famous now. In the past we had Sir Edward Marshall Hall, Sir Patrick Hastings and Lord Birkett, who thrilled the media of the time and then wrote their biographies with accounts of their forensic victories. We seem to have lost that interest in the drama of real-life court cases. The ‘decline of the English murder’, to coin a phrase.

As students we learned about real law through cases. Lawyers at least retain an interest in real law: sex, money, fame, religion and snails in bottles – it is all there. This book is a good mix of 50 tales from the courts covering murder, warfare, the press, sport and many others. The accounts of each case are interesting and include something new for everyone. It is not just a historical study of important cases but is bang up to date.

Fortunately, it avoids being too preachy, yet makes some interesting points. First, all litigation ends in failure for someone and lawyers are slap bang in the middle. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ is another lesson. Many litigants hoped for one result and inadvertently got the opposite. Courts are for the rich and powerful, have always been so and will probably always be so.

Are they the best place to debate issues? Have courts replaced churches as arbiters of morals? Have courts replaced the referees where disputes on sports fields started?

One wonders what cases will be written about in years to come. Will there be any interesting cases at all? The decline of legal aid may mean less dramatic cases. Read about it and enjoy the law while you still can.

David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott