Sultan Khokhar (Queen Elizabeth’s School) reviews Alexandra Wilson's 'In Black and White'
Our justice system lies at the core of our democracy; without the fair application of the rule of law, the intricate social fabric that we have developed over many centuries falls apart. However, something that is often overlooked is the notion of equality before the law, and that is precisely what this book tackles. Wilson discusses how, in many cases, the law is not applied fairly to the more vulnerable members of our society. It can often be daunting to consider that a process that is supposed to be inherently fair and objective can act on prejudices. However, Wilson not only masterfully presents such issues, such as the disadvantage that black defendants may be at in the courtroom, but also offers hope in the forms of solutions to these issues, drawing on her own experiences in many cases.
One example from Alexandra Wilson’s own career that particularly stood out to me was the case of a nineteen-year-old girl who was charged with criminal damage, who lashed out after she was called racial slurs by a housemate in her supported housing. For her, having a black, female lawyer made all the difference, as it resulted in a stronger sense of trust in the justice system, especially after she felt a previous lawyer “wasn’t even listening” to what she said.
In Black and White showed our justice system’s need to adapt to an ever more diverse society, and what made this book truly stand out was that it was written based on real, personal experience. It is a brilliant read, providing a more accessible insight into the law than more heavy, academic publications, and will leave the reader with a hunger to find out more about our justice system and its interaction with ordinary, working people.
Something I agreed with in this book was...
The benefits that a more diverse legal profession can have, as it allows legal professionals to be more relatable to their clients (whether that be in race, sex, accent, etc.), leading to an overall less daunting court environment.
Something I disagreed with in this book was...
The argument that the legal profession is not very diverse. Though there are certainly areas to work on, such as the fact that only 16.2% of QCs are female, the Bar is not a lost cause, indeed Wilson spends much of the book telling us how her initial sense of being an imposter has gradually been displaced by the recognition of the benefits of having a diverse background.
Something I learnt from reading this book that I didn’t know about this subject before was...
The use of Direct Access, which allows clients to instruct a specific, chosen barrister; this poses an ethical dilemma, as clients are able to strategically instruct a barrister, perhaps based on their race or gender, in an attempt to gain a more favourable outcome in court.