I posted a ‘shelfie’ for the ‘books for prisoners’ campaign last week – and was just looking at it and noticed that one of the books on the shelf was ‘The Best of Rumpole’. Rumpole was (and is) one of my heroes – so I took down the book, and started reading the introduction.
John Mortimer, who created and wrote the Rumpole stories, and who was himself a barrister, said some things in the introduction that reminded me why I find myself instinctively in tune with the criminal bar – though I am not a real lawyer at all. He wrote this introduction in 1992, but the words ring even more true today than they did back then. I’ll just repeat them as Mortimer wrote them:
“On the whole, lawyers are as unpopular as income tax collectors and traffic wardens. People think they tell lies and make a great deal of money. In fact, old criminal defenders like Rumpole don’t make much money and they stand up for our great legal principles – free speech, the idea that people are innocent until someone proves them guilty to the satisfaction of ten ordinary members of a jury, and the proposition that the police should not invent more of the evidence than is absolutely necessary. They protect the rights for which we have fought and struggled over the centuries, and do so at a time when jury trials and the rights of an accused person to silence are under constant attack from the government.”
That was back in 1992 – in 2014 the attacks from the government are far more intense, far more far-reaching, and sadly seem far more likely to succeed. We should be doing everything we can to defend the criminal bar from them, if we believe in any of these things. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I do.