Reviewed by: Paul Rogerson
Author: Brian Harris
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
The title of this book is rather limp, which is unfortunate. To me it suggested a lightweight collection of diverting courtroom vignettes – a patchwork of anecdotes, tragic and funny. That is a well-worn furrow.
There is indeed plenty of that, and to good effect. But the author’s intent is more ambitious. Retired QC Brian Harris aims to trace the very evolution of the law itself through individual ‘tales’ of people whose lives have been touched by (mostly British) courts. Thus we begin with examples of ‘primitive’ law, not the least arresting of which is the tale of the cook who was boiled to death for putting a laxative in the Bishop of Rochester’s dinner. Think on that the next time you hear of someone ‘getting into hot water’.
More recently we are reminded of the disgraced former MP and businessman John Stonehouse – the ‘real Reggie Perrin’ – who faked his own death to begin a new life with his secretary.
And it’s not just the criminal courts. As Harris reminds us, civil proceedings can be just as emotionally charged. Witness the 1996 libel case involving ‘Holocaust denier’ David Irving, who (unsuccessfully) argued that he was not a Holocaust denier because there was no Holocaust to deny.
This near 400-page anthology is well served by the elegant prose and dry wit of Mr Harris, who has written several well-received books. Dip into it or read it as continuum; this is a very enjoyable anthology to add to an impressive body of work.
Paul Rogerson is editor-in-chief of the Law Society Gazette