Bill Hosking is well known in legal circles, probably less outside of them, but his many years of experience, and sheer number of cases that he appeared in - mostly as defence counsel, is a telling testimony about this man's standing, and understanding, of the law.
JUSTICE DENIED is a look back through Hosking's career as a criminal barrister - defending rogues and crooks through to the seemingly indefensible. Using a very low-key, formal style of story-telling, he outlines many of the tools of the trade of a criminal barrister, and the efforts undertaken to ensure that everyone - even the worst of the worst, get a fair trial. It seems too easy for many to forget that fair trial, competent defence and the right for anybody to be considered innocent until proven guilty might be an uncomfortable reality, but it's a necessary fundamental of law-abiding society.
The cases he's describing range between those that demonstrate points of law, those that talk to court-craft and the nature of barrister appearance. There's also some lighter-hearted moments, including the story of the blind bank-robber referred to in the blurb. On the other hand, Hosking appeared as defence counsel for one of the (now proven) Anita Cobby killers. As he puts it 'Everyone in the car that dreadful night had a passport to doom'. He doesn't at any stage shy away from the circumstances of Ms Cobby's death, but is careful to be reserved about the details. He's also very carefully explaining the principles of justice and has some extremely valid points to make.
The only time that he does veer slightly from the reasoned and careful approach taken throughout the book is in one statement made in reference to the "Never to be released" sentencing of the Cobby killers (I quote as much as feasible to hopefully provide sufficient context):
"No one had expected this bombshell. Not even the hardline Crown Prosecutor had asked for it. The judge then added more gratuitous, emotive remarks designed to influence authorities long into the future. As the law then stood, it was wrong for the judge to do so. It would be misleading to suggest this directive by the respected judge was greeted with anything other than overwhelming community approval. But that is not the test. Calm judgement is.
Then came a sombre The Sun newspaper front-page headline, JAILED FOREVER. The article quoted the vastly experienced Justice Maxwell's statement that this crime ranked with the worst he had encountered in his forty years with the law. Sadly, this was undoubtedly true. On reflection, there is perhaps little value in seeking to classify murders. Each has one awful feature in common: a valuable, innocent life has been needlessly and irrevocably taken. Except in cases of domestic violence, there are seldom any mitigating factors."
Needless to say that last sentence rocked much of my perception about how this book had proceeded until that point. JUSTICE DENIED had been so measured, so careful and so considerate of all involved in all cases and was careful to place credit where credit was due towards other members of the legal profession. Yet, in one sentence there appears the suggestion that there could be mitigating factors in domestic violence - over and above those in any other "class" of murder. Try as this reader might to analyse that in the light of the "calm judgement" that Hosking insists is required under the law, it doesn't jell. Why the insistence that domestic violence is somehow different from any other form of violence? Perhaps that statement provides a crystal-clear glimpse into the thinking that has contributed to huge failings in our country's response to domestic violence.
Whilst this reader won't pretend that the passage referred to above didn't detract considerably from what, up until then, had been a most interesting book to read, JUSTICE DENIED does have it's upsides in the explanation of the role of criminal defence, the way that the court system works, and the nature of trial by judge and/or jury as a cornerstone of our justice system.