Books & Literature

Book Review: Nothing But the Truth, by The Secret Barrister

LAW: Full of hilarious, shocking, and surprising stories from their working life, Nothing But The Truth tracks the Secret Barrister’s progress through the endlessly frustrating experience of being a junior barrister.

Endlessly fascinating, readably learned, and wryly hilarious.

The Secret Barrister (SB) is the pseudonym of a British criminal barrister. For several years now they have been blogging and writing about the legal profession and the administration of justice in the UK. Nothing But the Truth is their third book.

Part memoire, part blog, and part excoriation of the justice system, this is a work which never fails to surprise, provoke thought, and sometimes horrify.

Roughly structured around their career trajectory, Nothing But the Truth follows SB as they go from bright-eyed law student, to shell-shocked Pupil (trainee barrister), to baby-barrister working sometimes 80 hours a week, to junior barrister, still over-worked but slightly less overwhelmed. Along the way they share stories from the courts, and from the administration of justice, including police, the prosecution service, solicitors, the media, and the public. The thread which holds all this together is their own internal journey. Interestingly, SB as a student was a self-confessed conservative with a hard-line “law and order” attitude to crime. They even bravely admit to walking into law lectures clutching a copy of The Daily Mail (conservative English paper). But once they get out into the profession their attitude changes dramatically.

Much of the view the general public has of the justice system, both in the UK and here in Australia, is shaped by the media: the communication filter through which we hear about criminals walking free, out-of-touch judges, and barristers only in it for the money. Nothing But the Truth is just that: the truth behind the emotive headlines. Of course, not everything SB writes about is the same in Australia. For starters the legal profession is organised quite differently here, especially the Bar. And although our system needs fixing, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as broken as that of the UK. However, fundamental issues are still the same. We share the same basic legal foundations, and the same carceral framework.

But in amongst the rather depressing stories are moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity. SB even includes a handy Legal Dictionary listing what a barrister says, and what they actually MEAN. For example:

“Barrister says: I am specifically instructed that…

Barrister means: My client, contrary to my sensible advice, is insisting that I say…”

Nothing But the Truth is a pacy read, full of intelligent observations, vulnerable self-insight, humour, and wisdom. It is one for the lovers of crime (reading about it, not doing it!) for anyone in, or around, the legal profession, and anyone with an interest in justice. And shouldn’t that be all of us?

Like SB themselves, you may find yourself changing, or at least modifying, some of your views of criminality and punishment. That’s especially true if you hold onto the comforting binary notion of there being “criminals” and “the rest of us”. As SB says:

“People are generally better than the most negative retelling of their actions. We are all more than our own worse [sic] acts.”

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: May 2022
RRP: $34.99

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