“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.