A lesson for the Secret Barrister – from Jane Austen

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“Oh thank God!” I thought, when the reporting ban was finally lifted on Tommy Robinson’s case, and the Secret Barrister published a blog post explaining all the legal ins and outs of his arrest and imprisonment.

And then I saw the words “knuckle-dragging cheerleaders”, “racists-in-arms” and “Nazi-themed march on Downing Street” and my heart sank.

Because what’s the point of putting together a 10-point explanation of the situation, if you’re going to use your opening paragraphs to insult the very people who would most benefit from reading it?  How many of them will have reached that point and shut it down in disgust, not reading any further?

The Secret Barrister, for those who haven’t heard of him / her, is a blogger who describes him / herself as “a junior barrister specialising in criminal law”. It is rumoured that the Secret Barrister is, in fact, not just one but a handful of junior barristers – but whether one or multiple is neither here nor there.

Either way, this particular blog was written by somebody clearly exasperated at having to explain what they see as a number of self-evident points of law to lesser-brained mortals asking stupid questions on social media.  Despite the overall clear, concise explanations of the various points covered, comments such as “No, ye of little brain”, while possibly meant to be read as fairly harmless, denote a contempt for the ordinary masses who clearly don’t find the various points of law quite as self-evident as the barristers who have spent years studying and practising them.

It brought to mind the scene in the film ‘Emma’, in which Emma, exasperated at Miss Bates’ annoying wittering, and attempting to show off to others present, cuts her down with a particularly cruel retort, and is afterwards firmly reprimanded by Mr Knightly.  “Badly done, Emma” he says to her, going on to point out that such remarks may be acceptable when directed towards an equal but in the case of Miss Bates “her situation being in every way below you should secure your compassion”.

I completely sympathise with, and understand, the frustration felt by whoever wrote that blog – as well as the irresistible urge to display their superior wit and intelligence in expressing it.  I’m not immune to such behaviour myself and have on a number of occasions over my years working in corporate environments, been told off by managers for being unnecessarily cutting in email exchanges with those who I felt were being unforgivably stupid.   It takes a very strong will to resist the urge to fire off a sharp retort to what is seen as a ridiculous question, particularly when posed by somebody for whom one already has little patience.

I also understand that the usual readership of the Secret Barrister is probably fairly well-educated, very few of them supporters of Tommy Robinson, and most of those regular readers would have well appreciated the barbs aimed at those still calling for his release.  It is these regular readers the blog is written for – and the majority of them will see no issue with it.

But what the whole debacle over Robinson’s arrest has highlighted, is the widening gulf between the ordinary British (and European, and American) public whose everyday experience of life is so very different from those occupying positions of relative power within the legal, political or media professions.  The reasons for Robinson’s arrest may have been immediately self-evident to those working in those professions, but far less so to those who have never had any experience of the law, or set foot inside a courtroom.   Yes, some of those calling for Tommy Robinson’s release probably are racists – but the large majority of them are ordinary citizens who simply can’t understand how somebody can be arrested, tried and imprisoned within a matter of hours simply for filming on the street outside a courtroom.

With everybody crying out for explanations, this could have been the perfect opportunity to narrow the gap in understanding between those in the legal profession and those outside.  For those such as myself, who already understood most of the points covered and simply needed a few minor misconceptions cleared up, it did the job perfectly.  But by talking down to, and insulting, those who most would have benefited from reading it in its entirety, the greater opportunity was lost.  Great, informative blog, Secret Barrister – but badly done.

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10 Responses to A lesson for the Secret Barrister – from Jane Austen

  1. Joseph Ordinaire says:

    “a Nazi-themed march on Downing Street.” – “Nazi-themed” – really? From someone who is supposedly employed for their ability to choose words carefully
    Then comes his answer to yours and others criticism of the tone of the piece
    “15. Do you have to be so snarky in your lawsplaining? Aren’t you just turning off people who you need to convince?”
    “racist cult leader” – As above, plus evidence that he is personally (as opposed to some of his followers) not racist is fairly clear and easy to find. Unless you count Islam as a race?
    This is not mere insult it is spreading falsehood in the midst of a piece about (and containing much) objective fact.
    Snark and “lawsplaining” are fine – this attitude is not – this self appointed judge court and jury has tried and found guilty of Nazism and racism people who would not recognise themselves as any such thing
    “disseminating blatant falsehoods about our legal system and gaslighting the public”, “deliberately sowing discord and falsehoods”, “never going to be swayed by facts or rational argument”, “integrity”, “the toga party they have wandered into is in fact a Klan meeting” – clear hypocrisy, double standards and deceptive hyperbole.
    If the author wishes to claim the dishonesty of others perhaps he/she/they could start with telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but” themselves. I only wish that I had the time energy and space here to do a much better job myself.


  2. Jay says:

    You expressed my thoughts, thank you.

    While I welcomed the content of the SB’s post, even I was startled at the display of such naked contempt for The Other, in this case the, predominantly white, British working class which forms the core of TR’s supporters and I was disappointed that the SB lacked the empathy to understand that it is this very contempt on the part of the establishment which has driven people to support TR in the first place. I think that SB is correct in thinking that his explanation of the points of law involved in the case are beyond the supporters – but because the legal niceties simply are irrelevant to them: TR is the voice that they’ve been denied for many years and they have scant sympathy for a judicial offence no matter how justified the judiciary is in taking the offence seriously. Even to those who accept that TR was bang to rights, it remains troubling that, had his arrest itself not been filmed or his American ‘racists-in-arms’ not reported it, a man could be arrested on one charge, convicted on another, sentenced and imprisoned without the public being aware of it. Strangely, the troublesome livestream which demanded a conviction is still available to potentially prejudice the third of the linked trials.

    The entire incident has served to arouse the suspicions of the wider public that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. NUFCinnocent says:

    The “Secret Barrister” is lying though, that’s the main problem with his piece about Tommy Robinson.

    If you remember he was charged with “breach of the peace”, this was then changed to “contempt of court”. His lawyer was lied to, was told Tommy Robinson was being released so there was no need to travel to Leeds rondefend him.

    But if the Law is so honest, as the “Secret Barrister” likes to make out, then what about the Labour MP Naomi Long, who did far worse than TR, and who the Left lionised and cheered HER actions? She really was in conrempt of court, as one of the lawyers for the dedence of the rugby players accused of rape said during the trial. She tweeted during the trial about something the defence barrister actually said in court, on the same day he said it,. The dedence barrister said he was appalled and rhat the whole trial was now in jeopardy.

    Yet, she wasn’t arrested, strange that!! We have a 2-tier Injustice Sysyem in the UK.


    • ilikewords23 says:

      The SB is not lying – he gives a very good explanation of the fact that Tommy was arrested for breach of the peace and then charged with contempt of court; it is not uncommon for the CPS to add or amend charges after the initial arrest.

      I was not aware of the Naomi Long tweet and have just read about it – I agree it seems inconsistent that she was not prosecuted but I’m not sure I agree with the barrister’s contention that it could have prejudiced the jury in any way. Her tweet was a comment specifically about what she interpreted as blatant class snobbery in the defence barrister’s choice of words – it was not a comment on the guilt or innocence of the defendants, which I think may have been the key.


      • Mr B J Mann says:

        And Robinson didn’t say anything at all about the guilt or innocence of the defendants.

        in fact he only appears to have read out the charge sheet as previously and still broadcast on the interweb and pinned to the noticeboard in the court itself.

        Apart from he interjected “alleged” in front of the charges!


      • ilikewords23 says:

        He asked the defendants if they had their prison bags packed. That’s a pretty clear accusation of guilt in my book. I’m afraid I deleted your other comments as they are not applicable to this blog – I get that it’s frustrating not having your comments approved by the Secret Barrister but this blog is not a proxy for comments that haven’t been approved elsewhere.


  4. Emmelina Ogilvy says:

    Thank you! Nice to see someone thinks SBs behaviour was appalling. Not sure I like being compared to Miss Bates and I don’t really want the SBs compassion – just some common or garden manners would do.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • ilikewords23 says:

      Yes, I agree the comparison to Miss Bates is unfortunate but I suspect in the SB’s view most of those outside the legal profession are on a par with Miss Bates. I’m busy reading his/her book and can only conclude from its overall tone and style that he/she is a pompous arse!


  5. Emmelina Ogilvy says:

    I think the general consensus from his supporters is that the media ban is wrong and moot anyway and most of all that the sentence he was given way over the top. It doesn’t even compared with similar cases… Added to that, he is in incredible danger in jail. If you are interested there is a lot in his book that gives further context to his dealings with the law. Very worrying reading.


    • ilikewords23 says:

      I have to admit I haven’t yet read his book – keep meaning to do so but I already have a mounting pile of books on my bookshelf that I’m not managing to get through. Have watched his Oxford Union speech though, and read / watched / listened to various interviews with him – I’m not an out-and-out supporter at all and think he’s a deeply flawed spokesperson for the cause for which he is fighting, but I do agree there is a double standard in the way he is dealt with by the law as opposed to almost any other citizen. And I can see how, in giving a voice to so many people who are frustrated at the slow and often non-existent justice afforded to victims of grooming gangs, he is seen as a working class hero.


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