Thursday 19 January 2023

Unlawful Killings by Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC #UnlawfulKillings @DoubledayUK @AliceLutyens #HerHonourWendyJosephQC


'Every day in the UK lives are suddenly, brutally, wickedly taken away. Victims are shot or stabbed. Less often they are strangled or suffocated or beaten to death. Rarely they are poisoned, pushed off high buildings, drowned or set alight. Then there are the many who are killed by dangerous drivers, or corporate gross negligence. There are a lot of ways you can kill someone. I know because I've seen most of them at close quarters.'

High-profile murder cases all too often grab our attention in dramatic media headlines - for every unlawful death tells a story. But, unlike most of us, a judge doesn't get to turn the page and move on. Nor does the defendant, or the family of the victim, nor the many other people who populate the court room.

And yet, each of us has a vested interest in what happens there. And while most people have only the sketchiest idea of what happens inside a Crown Court, any one of us could end up in the witness-box or even in the dock.

With breath-taking skill and deep compassion, the author describes how cases unfold and illustrates exactly what it's like to be a murder trial judge and a witness to human good and bad. Sometimes very bad.

The fracture lines that run through our society are becoming harder and harder to ignore. From a unique vantage point, the author warns that we do so at our peril.

Unlawful Killings : Life, Love and Murder: Trials at the Old Bailey by Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC was published in hardback on 9 June 2022 by Doubleday, the paperback is released on 2 March 2023. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I met Her Honour Wendy Joseph at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Fiction Festival in Harrogate last year. I have never knowingly met a Judge before. I've always had that stereotypical view that a judge will be large, and loud and usually male. Her Honour is tiny and soft spoken and gentle and I was a little bit smitten by her! 

Her book is outstanding. It is one of the best non-fiction books that I've read for many years. She writes with a novelist's flair and ease about things that are real and often tragic and sad. Throughout the book, various different cases are discussed, all involving the death of at least one person. The way that she describes the court room, and the people within it is fascinating.

All too often, we hear screams from social media about the justice system, and how judges are out of touch with real life. Not so in this case, not at all. Her Honour writes with a compassion and understanding that did, I have to admit, surprise me. She may have to judge each case and what has happened, but she certainly does not judge the individuals before her. She makes a point of discussing them as the real human beings that they are, looking deeper than the defendant in the dock, and seeing the human being behind them. Learning more about their stories, and about what led them to appear before her. 

I learnt a great deal from this book, and from Her Honour. There were aspects of the law that surprised me, especially the explanation about the verdicts of guilty and not-guilty and how no one ever tried by a jury is found 'innocent', as there is no such verdict in England and Wales. A verdict of not-guilty only means that the prosecution has not made the jury sure of guilt. Even if a jury concludes the defendant is very probably guilty, they must return a verdict of 'not guilty' - because 'very probably' is not 'sure'. I have thought about this so many time since I read it. It's basic and straight forward, but I'm guessing that many people don't know this, or consider it. 

This is a fascinating, very well written book that grips like a crime fiction thriller. Highly recommended by me. 

Until March 2022 Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC was a judge at the Old Bailey, sitting on criminal
cases, trying mainly allegations of murder and other homicide. 

She read English and Law at Cambridge, was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn in 1975, became a QC in 1998 and sat as a full-time judge from 2007 to 2022. 

When she moved to the Old Bailey in 2012 she was the only woman amongst sixteen judges, and only the third woman ever to hold a permanent position there. 

She was also a Diversity and Community Relations Judge, working to promote understanding between the judiciary and many different sectors of our community, particularly those from less privileged and minority groups. 

She mentors young people, from a variety of backgrounds, who hope for a career in law and has a special interest in helping women.

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