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Monday, 27 August 2018

‘Judge Walden: Back in Session’ by Peter Murphy


Published by No Exit Press,
24 May 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-85730-203-8 (PB)

In crime fiction, except for those in which all the villains die in a hail of bullets while the hero leaves town accompanied only by his trusty toothbrush, the ultimate end is a trial in which the innocent are acquitted and the guilty are convicted and receive their just deserts. Such is justice. Straightforward? Not necessarily. Simple? Not really.
In the Crown Courts of England and Wales where the more serious crimes are judged in front of a judge and jury there is a whole series of legal rules which govern how a trial is actually conducted and what evidence is admissible. Is this really necessary? Or would it be better if trials were conducted purely on a ‘seat of the pants basis’? What would really be in the interests of justice?

In London, where this and the earlier book in the series which also featured Judge Walden are set, Crown Courts range from the Old Bailey where cases of the utmost seriousness are tried to small courts like the fictitious Bermondsey Crown Court where Judge Walden, the presiding judge, and his three colleagues sit as judges. Years of long experience and considerable legal knowledge enable them to apply apparently strict legal rules to human behaviour which is infinitely variable in a way which is as just and fair as possible. Judge Walden and his colleagues differ from each other: he is elderly and has a fairly traditional attitude, but he is not illiberal. When a female juror appears in court with a face veil, after some thought he raises no objection: it is a juror’s job to judge the truthfulness or otherwise of witnesses and a face veil will not prevent her from doing so. One colleague has much more right-wing views and disapproves of recent trends among lawyers: for instance, when a woman barrister appears with her pink hair highly visible under her wig, only Judge Walden’s diplomatic skills enable a reasonable compromise to be achieved. That judge and the only woman judge, who had been a high-flying commercial lawyer and has a much more modern attitude, frequently differ on such matters; it is Judge Walden who resolves their disputes.

But it is not Judge Walden’s fellow judges who cause real problems, it is the civil servants from the Ministry of Justice, referred to as the Grey Smoothies, who constantly reduce the resources available to the criminal justice system while insisting that greater efficiency in the administration of justice will deal with any problems. All too often, as the stories in this collection demonstrate, this turns out to be anything but the case.

These stories are witty and skilfully written yet have a light touch. My own feeling is that writers and readers of crime fiction should read them so as to bear in mind that the conclusion of the stories they write, which usually end in an arrest, would in real life be but a stage in the story. In view of the inescapable complexity of the criminal law and the rules of criminal evidence and procedure it is probably just as well that the majority of crime stories avoid the trial.
Highly recommended.
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Reviewer: Radmila May

Peter Murphy was born in 1946. After graduating from Cambridge University he spent a career in the law, as an advocate and teacher, both in England and the United States. His legal work included a number of years in The Hague as defence counsel at the Yugoslavian War Crimes Tribunal. He lives with his wife, Chris, in Cambridgeshire.





 
Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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