Read all about it! Our readers pick their favourite law related books



For a little lockdown levity, we asked some of our readers to recommend their favourite law-related books.

Axiom Advocates’ Megan Dewart and Strathclyde’s Malcolm Combe both recommended the Shardlake series by C. J. Sansom.

Megan said: “Shardlake is a Tudor lawyer, who becomes increasingly embroiled in the affairs of the King’s court with each case he takes on. He has a much more investigative role in the cases he takes on than we have now. Each novel coincides with another one of Henry VIII’s wives - so good variety too!”

Malcolm added: “If pushed for a favourite individual book I would vote for Sovereign for the reason it drew me into the series alone. I am a sucker for historical fiction books anyway.”

Terra Firma’s Stephen O’Rourke QC revealed that his favourite legal novel is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The author regarded it as his magnum opus, saying: “I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.” And, of course, Stephen is himself an author. His debut novel The Crown Agent was published last year, to rave reviews. It also recently earned itself a place on the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize Shortlist 2020. You can read Willie McIntyre’s review of the book in SLN here.

SYLA president and Clyde & Co junior associate Ayla Iridag chose as her favourite legal novel The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. The book, which is also a film starring Matthew McConaughey, tells the story of Los Angeles attorney Mickey Haller and an unusually important case of his. Michael Connelly is best known for his mainstay character – detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, who is also the subject of a hit series on Amazon Prime.

Advocate Robert Sutherland picked Uncommon Law by A. P. Herbert. The book is a collection of the author’s Misleading Cases in the Common Law, many of which first appeared in Punch magazine.

Robert explained: “A. P. Herbert was a barrister who never practised, a prolific writer and an MP.

“Many of these featured the character Albert Haddock as litigant or defendant. The object of the stories told in many these Misleading Cases was to point to an aspect of the law which deserved reform or in some other way was open to question. Lawmakers, and magistrates/judges were frequent targets.  

“Others took a basic principle, and tested its’ premise by absurd facts. Thus we have the famous case about a cheque made out to the Inland Revenue on the side of a cow, or the prosecution of an Eton schoolmaster under the Obscene Publications Act 1857 for possession of a book of classical mythology.

“They make a point, they are well constructed and written, and they are very funny.”

Conner McConnell, a solicitor at Gillespie Macandrew, recommended Under the Wig: a Lawyer’s Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocence, by William Clegg QC. He said: “It’s written in a really accessible way and he’s very honest in how he portrays his job and the people he has defended.”

Benjamin Bestgen, who pens SLN’s jurisprudential primer series, selected Arthur D. Miller’s Snowdrops, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. It is the story of a high-flying British lawyer in Moscow who falls prey to the city’s various seductions.

Solicitor and prolific author Willie McIntyre plumped for John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey series. His non-fiction choice was Sally Smith QC’s Marshall Hall: A Law unto Himself, which was reviewed by Stephen O’Rourke QC for SLN.

Douglas Mill highlighted the autobiographies of Ross Harper and Irvine Smith and pointed out that “most lawyers leave their autobiographies too late”.

“Both were major personalities, but when they finally published most of their peers in the profession were well gone and the youngsters had hardly heard of them.”

Douglas is currently reading From Crime To Crime by retired judge Richard Henriques

“He has a slightly detached style, but he prosecuted Shipman and the Bulger case and sat in judgement of Jeremy Bamber and other high profile accused, ” said Douglas.

“The best chapters are actually in relation to his review of the dreadful Operation Midland sex allegation case and his views on the Future of the Judiciary. Pungent reading for non-lawyer Lord Chancellors and refreshing that he finally spoke once retired. It is difficult to think of any Scottish judge or sheriff who has had such courage.”

Eamon Keane, solicitor and academic at Edinburgh Law School, chose The Trial by Franz Kafka

He said: “It was really a throw up between this and To Kill a Mockingbird, but there’s a depth, profundity and strange allure to Kafka’s (unfinished) novel that I find immensely enjoyable. The story of Josef K’s descent into ever-increasing bureaucracy and a legal system that is both utterly impenetrable and unjust but strangely personal, is one that I often return to.

“It’s incredible that the narrative is so prescient, given that it was written largely prior to the sweep of totalitarianism that would engulf Europe in the 20th century. One of the novel’s main attractions for me is the fact it is liable to seemingly endless interpretation. It’s quite obviously about the inaccessibility of the law on hand (and indeed the role that lawyers sometimes play in that respect), but I’ve also read those who argue it’s about everything from Freudian psychology to the concept of original sin. As Albert Camus put it (obviously far far better than I can!), ‘it is the fate and perhaps the greatness of The Trial that it offers everything and confirms nothing’.”

SLN managing editor Graham Ogilvy said: “One of my most prized possessions is a contemporary account of the trial in 1793 of Scottish advocate Thomas Muir for sedition. It sits alongside a bound copy of the trial of Thomas Fyshe Palmer, the Dundee minister also prosecuted for sedition who was transported to Australia with Muir. The latter was published by William Skirving who, in turn, was also prosecuted and transported. It amazes me that in the recent stooshie about the Melville Monument to Henry Dundas, who looks down his nose at us in Edinburgh, virtually no mention has been made of the vicious repression of Scottish democrats that he and his nephew, the then Lord Advocate Robert Dundas, orchestrated.

“But my final choice would be Walls Have Mouths by Wilfred Macartney with a foreword by Compton Mackenzie. It is the first great exposure of the British prison system, written by a Scot who served 10 years’ hard labour in Dartmoor having been found guilty of a ludicrous attempt to spy for the Soviet Union. Dealing with taboo subjects at the time, it was a brave decision by Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club to publish it in 1936 – the year Macartney went off to fight in Spain in the International Brigade. But it is a brilliant, searing indictment of the system at the time and screams out to be republished – a classic which has lost none of its power to shock.”

Next week readers tell us of their favourite law-related films.

Tags: books



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