‘In Your Defence: Stories of Life & Law’ by Sarah Langford:
‘In Your Defence: Stories of Life & Law’ by Sarah Langford is the first book that I have read that has been recommended to me by a fellow bookstagrammer, and honestly I am stoked. It’s amazing to be part of a community which is so passionate, friendly, and open. But, to also be recommended fabulous reads is such a bonus!
As a Sunday Times Bestseller ‘In Your Defence’ has been described as ‘thought provoking’ by the literary review; ‘thoughtful, elegant… thrilling’ by the Times; and, ‘powerful, moving … captivating’ by the Financial Times, so it had a lot to live up to. In short, it did not disappoint. The blurb is as follows…
“In eleven heart-stopping cases, Sarah described what does on in our family and criminal courts. She reveals what it is like to work in a world of archaic rituals and inaccessible language. And she explored what it means to be at its mercy. Our legal system promises us justice and fair judgement. Does it, can it, deliver this?”
For fear of revealing too many spoilers, I am not going to focus on any of the particular cases, however, they each offer a unique insight into the structure and face of law in Britain. Langford effortlessly highlights how strange it is for a lay person to navigate both the world & words of the law. She provides a very human feel and touch, to something that is so often portrayed as faceless, inaccessible, and draconian.
Prior to reading ‘In Your Defence’ I had just finished ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Perez, and was starting ‘The Gendered Brain’ by Gina Rippon. Langford offered some lighter relief in the form of the memoir-type account of her family and criminal court career. Towards the end of last year I found myself really enjoying this type of non-fiction, with Langford’s book offering a nice human-focused contrast to ‘The Secret Barrister’ which more acutely highlights the current faults in our legal system. ‘In Your Defence’ is a whirlwind of emotions, and struck me deep in my heart. When I was studying my legal undergraduate degree I often felt that the people whom the law affected were missed out; reading redacted case law, decades old statutes, and academic analyses often left me wanting. Langford on the other hand creates a truly personable, relatable narrative – she is the type of barrister I wish I had met when I was studying.
Nevertheless, Langford was (is?) not free of the constraints of the legal system that lean towards making women feel excluded – the same historic prejudices & assumptions I felt party to in law school. At one point she states “I knew I must continue to be affable and underwhelming, to flap my hands and roll my eyes at my client’s stubbornness, for it was unhelpful to get a reputation as someone tricky, prickly or difficult” when dealing with a senior male barrister.
Ultimately, however, Langford is clear “[f]or, at it’s heart, the law is about humanity” – which to me feels so crucial to remember. Our legal system is not perfect (name me one that is!) but with the right players, reformers, and intention it exists to protect us, not expose us.
“The law is human justice, designed and enforced. It will therefore always be imperfect. It makes mistakes, it is slow, sometimes chaotic, sometimes illogical. It cracks and – at times – crumbles. But it remains a pillar upon which our country is founded. Were it to break, the stability of our nation would break too, and we would all be poorer for it”
‘In Your Defence’ in Facts:
Author: Sarah Langford
First Published: 2018
Publishing House: Penguin Random House, Black Swan
Pages: 307 (270 bulk)