Book recommendation: Law, Liberty and the Constitution: A Brief History of the Common Law by Harry Potter

Throughout English history the rule of law and the preservation of liberty have been inseparable, and both are intrinsic to England’s constitution. This accessible and entertaining history traces the growth of the law from its beginnings in Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. It shows how the law evolved from a means of ensuring order and limiting feuds to become a supremely sophisticated dispenser of justice and the primary guardian of civil liberties. This development owed much to the English kings and their judiciary, who, in the twelfth century, forged a unified system of law – predating that of any other European country – from almost wholly Anglo-Saxon elements. Yet by the seventeenth century this royal offspring – Oedipus Lex it could be called – was capable of regicide. Since then the law has had a somewhat fractious relationship with that institution upon which the regal mantle of supreme power descended, Parliament. This book tells the story of the common law not merely by describing major developments but by concentrating on prominent personalities and decisive cases relating to the constitution, criminal jurisprudence, and civil liberties. It investigates the great constitutional conflicts, the rise of advocacy, and curious and important cases relating to slavery, insanity, obscenity, cannibalism, the death penalty, and miscarriages of justice. The book concludes by examining the extension of the law into the prosecution of war criminals and protection of universal human rights and the threats posed by over-reaction to national emergencies and terrorism. Devoid of jargon and replete with good stories, Law, Liberty and the Constitution represents a new approach to the telling of legal history and will be of interest to anyone wishing to know more about the common law – the spinal cord of the English body politic. Harry Potter is a former fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge and a practising barrister specialising in criminal defence. He has authored books on the death penalty and Scottish history and wrote and presented an award-winning series on the history of the common law for the BBC.

Available from Amazon.

September 2, 2015 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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In my dreams

“What would be your dream life, BabyB?” asked OldRuin over coffee this morning.
“I’ve no idea,” I replied. “But I guess it’d have to involve having financial security for my mother. Maybe pay off her debts, get her a bigger house.”
“And what would you be doing?”
“I don’t know. I never imagined I’d be a barrister but I can’t imagine doing anything else now that I’m here. Sounds sad but the security thing’s the only bit I’d change.”
“Will you grant me a wish, BabyB?”
“Of course. What?”
“That you try to stop making plans and start dreaming again. Dream like you were a child once more.” He hesitated before adding: “Boundless.”

I’ve no doubt that I looked more than a little perplexed and he fell back into a voice I’ve heard him use before, only just above a whisper. “It’s in the everyday that you forge your character…” Again he looked at me, this time a little wistfully before finishing with: “But it’s your dreams which give it shape.”

September 1, 2015 · Tim Kevan · No Comments
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Monday morning with Alex Williams’ cartoons

This cartoon is by Alex Williams who draws the Queen’s Counsel cartoons for The Times and in numerous books including The Queen’s Counsel Lawyer’s Omnibus. He offers almost all of his cartoons for sale at £120 for originals and £40 for copies and they can be obtained from this email

August 31, 2015 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Weekend video: Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

August 29, 2015 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Book recommendation: The Great Defender: The Life and Trials of Edward Marshall Hall KC, England’s Greatest Barrister by Edward Marjoribanks (Author), Gary Bell QC (Introduction)

When Sir Edward Marshall Hall died in 1927 it was the end of an era. Tall, strikingly handsome and charming, the barrister was the finest advocate ever seen in the English criminal courts. Known as ‘The Great Defender’ as he fought tooth and nail for his clients, those in the shadow of the hangman’s noose were often saved from execution by his dramatic and eloquent defence. His closing speeches to rapt juries were legendary and there was never a free seat in the public gallery or on the press bench when he was in the Old Bailey. Marshall Hall did not win every case – the ‘brides in the bath’ murderer George Smith and poisoner Frederick Seddon were sentenced to death – but not without a fight from the amazing advocate. One of his finest victories came in 1894 when he saved the life of Marie Hermann, a former Austrian governess who had resorted to prostitution to feed her three children, one of whom was blind, after her husband abandoned her. Charged with the murder of an elderly client, even she believed she would be hanged. Marshall Hall gave an impassioned plea to the jury which ended with him, with tears on his cheeks and pointing to her in the dock, begging, ‘Look at her, gentlemen of the jury, look at her. God never gave her a chance. Won’t you?’ They did, and she was found not guilty of murder. Despite success in court, Marshall Hall’s personal life was tragic. His first wife, Ethel, whom he adored, informed him on their honeymoon that she could never love him and died in agony following a botched, secret abortion after getting pregnant with her lover’s child. This biography, written by his friend Edward Marjoribanks, with an introduction by criminal barrister Gary Bell QC, details many of the advocate’s famous trials and his life outside court.

Available from Amazon.

August 26, 2015 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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The Legal Cave

I went along with OldRuin to a negotiation today with the other side’s lawyers. They were pointing out a couple of technical deficiencies in our case which appeared to have no merit other than us not having ticked quite the right boxes before the lawyers got involved. “You know,” said OldRuin, “sometimes I look at what we do and think we’re no better than the prisoner’s in Plato’s cave.” Both the other side and I have to say myself looked a little non-plussed. OldRuin continued: “Plato imagined that all these prisoners saw of the world was its shadows. Sometimes it reminds me of what we do. Yet, when I meet the people who will be affected by the hospital closure, it’s like coming out of the cave and being blinded by the bright light of reality.” He looked at the other side’s lawyers and then turned to me and said: “Come on, BabyB. Sometimes I tire of a profession to which I have devoted my life. The sun’s shining outside and it’s time to leave the cave.” He paused and then gave a wry smile at the other side: “For today, at least.”

August 25, 2015 · Tim Kevan · One Comment
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Monday morning with Alex Williams’ cartoons

This cartoon is by Alex Williams who draws the Queen’s Counsel cartoons for The Times and in numerous books including The Queen’s Counsel Lawyer’s Omnibus. He offers almost all of his cartoons for sale at £120 for originals and £40 for copies and they can be obtained from this email

August 24, 2015 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Weekend video: A Day in the Life of a Cambridge Law Student

August 22, 2015 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Book recommendation: Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Howard Marks by Thomas Grant

Having been born into the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group and served under Louis Mountbatten in the Second World War, Jeremy Hutchinson went on to become the greatest criminal barrister of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The cases of that period changed society for ever and provide a fascinating look into Britain’s post-war social, political and cultural history. Hutchinson’s role in them was second to none. From the sex and spying scandals which contributed to Harold Macmillan’s resignation in 1963 to the fight against literary censorship through his defence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Fanny Hill and Last Tango in Paris, Hutchinson was involved in many of the great trials of the period. He also defended George Blake, Christine Keeler, Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson, art faker Tom Keating and Howard Marks. Case Histories provides entertaining, vivid and revealing insights into what was really going on in those celebrated courtroom dramas that defined an age, as well as painting a picture of a remarkable life.

Available from Amazon.

August 19, 2015 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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I was telling Claire about the terrible performance of my consultant neurologist in a case I did yesterday. She replied,
‘My pupilmistress used to say that you should never trust experts. As she put it, the ‘x’ stands for the unknown factor and the ‘spurt’ is simply a drip under pressure.’

Then she smiled and added,
‘Though maybe it was nerves? After all, a neurologist can hardly avoid nerves in his line of work.’
‘Just like work for an accountant must be incredible taxing?’ I replied.
‘Exactly and crazy being a psychiatrist.’
‘Shocking to be an electrician.’
‘And foul to be a chicken-farmer.’

We were giggling now.
‘Backbreaking for an orthopaedic surgeon,’ I said.
‘Worse than pulling teeth to be a dentist,’ said Claire.
‘A complete grind,’ I replied.
‘You know,’ she went on, ‘I once had a dentist with a great sense of humour. He lived in a house called High Pulham and had a boat named Fylmacavity and a coat of arms with the motto Lucram per cariem, which apparently means “prosperity from decay”.’

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

August 18, 2015 · Tim Kevan · No Comments
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