‘Under the Wig, A Lawyer’s Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocent’ by William Clegg QC
‘Under the Wig, A Lawyer’s Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocent’ by William Clegg QC has been described as ‘gripping’ by The Secret Barrister. That made it pretty much a no-brainer when it came to choosing books to take on my recent holiday to Croatia. Having previously read both ‘The Secret Barrister’ and ‘In Your Defence’ I was intrigued to see what different narrative/perspective Clegg would bring to the table.
From the offset Clegg has chosen as a different structure to highlight the various aspects of his legal career. Instead of focusing solely on the instructive cases he was played a role in, he alternatives his chapters with personal reflection, and historical context within his career. He takes his reader on a journey, starting with his decision to study law, his early setbacks in joining chambers, right through to becoming a QC (Queens Counsel). By allowing us to follow his career, it helps the reader connect personally to his narrative and see the person ‘under the wig’. It also helps to demystify parts of the legal profession, and make it more accessible for the general public.
It is clear throughout the book that Clegg has been very successful in his career, rising to become one of England’s top legal professionals, covering a wide range of highly public cases. One of my favourite parts of the book, is ‘Case #10: War Crimes in the Balkans’. Here Clegg summarizes his involvement in the war crimes prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia (ICTY) for the atrocities committed in the Balkans during the 1990s. I found this section particularly interesting as I studied the ICTY as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) for my International Humanitarian Law module at law school. Ensuring that human rights are upheld even during the darkest of times was one of the key reasons that I wanted to study law, and becoming familiar with the ‘laws of war’ was a crucial element of that learning. Whilst at university reading about the atrocities that were committed during these conflicts was harrowing and some of the most difficult summaries/judgments I ever had to read. Being presented with another element of the story through Clegg’s defence of Tadic and Jelisic helped bring back the human perspective, and understand exactly what goes on behind the scenes of these prosecutions. A quote from Clegg that has stayed with me is…
“The trials taught me that it is within everyone to behave in a way that involes the commission of crimes against humanity and no-one can predict how they will react unless they are placed in that situation”
As will all crimes it is often most comforting to distance ourselves from them, to believe that we could never do such a thing, but as Clegg continues to point out in ‘Under the Wig’, that is not necessarily the case. This brings me nicely to my final point, towards the end of the book Clegg calls out the cuts to the British Legal Aid system: “[t]he truth is that the years of savage cuts to the Legal Aid budget, the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service have badly damaged our system of criminal justice. They will lead to innocent people being convicted of crimes they did not commit and the guilty going free”. In order for democracy to function properly, there has to be complete faith in the ability of the judiciary to do their job. If this trust is being undermined by the inability of our courts to do their jobs – due to lack of funding, proper representation (again affected by reduced funding) – then the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty will be undermined. Something that I personally think should be avoided at all costs…
‘Under the Wig’ in Facts:
Author: William Clegg QC
First Published: 2018
Publishing House: Canbury Press
Pages: 287 (275 bulk read)