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updated on 24 October 2022
Reading time: five minutes
As October draws in and the weather gets colder, there’s nothing quite like snuggling up with a good book. Since the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, legal fiction has captured the hearts of many. Although the book is undoubtedly a brilliant work of legal fiction, it’s also a novel written by a white author about the Black experience of the justice system in America. To use the words of author Tanya Landman in The Guardian, “Harper Lee’s focus is purely white”. Since the 1960s, a whole wealth of legal writing has been produced by Black authors. In highlighting these voices, we hope to not only expand your legal knowledge but hope that you’ll also be entertained, fascinated and inspired.
For more information on what firms, chambers and legal education providers are doing to improve diversity and inclusion within the profession, head to LCN’s Diversity hub, sponsored by Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.
In Black and White: A Young Barrister's Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System by Alexandra Wilson
In her debut non-fiction book, Alexandra Wilson explores the British legal system from the inside as a junior criminal and family law barrister. Her story begins when she was a teenager, following the passing of her close friend, Ayo, who was stabbed to death on his way home from football. The series of events that followed compelled Alexandra to enter the legal profession in search of answers and more importantly, change.
In Black and White allows the reader to feel that they’re with Alexandra through her grief and into the tense courtroom as she finds herself navigating a world with a set of rules designed by a privileged few. The book offers a genuine and raw reality of race in the legal system as it stands today, in the 21st Century. She writes: “The Bar represents the whole of society. It should reflect that.” Her book is in equal parts shocking, confounding and powerful – a must read for anybody interested in the legal justice system.
Without Prejudice by Nicola Williams
This text only came to my attention in an edited collection by celebrated author Bernardine Evaristo. Republished for an edited collection titled Black Britain: Writing Black, which is a series aimed at rediscovering pioneering books depicting Black Britain. Evaristo describes the book as “impressive and unique. As relevant today as it was over two decades ago.” In this, she’s utterly accurate.
Williams is a British barrister specialising in criminal law and since 2009 she’s been a part-time Crown Court judge in London. Her protagonist, Lee Mitchell, is a 30-year-old barrister from a working-class Caribbean background. Set in the 1990s, Lee faces prejudice both in and out of the courtroom. As she takes on a high-profile case, the line between the personal and professional becomes severely blurred. If you enjoy a fast-paced, thrilling novel, this may just be the one for you.
One of Them by Musa Okwonga
The next book we’ve chosen has a slightly different connection to the legal world. Musa Okwonga was born in Britain to parents who’d fled war-torn Uganda in the mid-1970s. He grew up in a working-class town on the outskirts of London and always dreamt of attending Eton. Aged 13, Okwonga won a half-scholarship to the school and found himself plunged into one of the top single-sex educational establishments in Britain.
His story is one of covert prejudice, as he struggles to understand the “great silence” that existed in his education. From a lack of acknowledgment of the role of empire in building the school and no mention of slavery in history lessons, Okwonga questions the insidious presence of racism in his schooling. In adulthood, he went on to study jurisprudence, sometimes known as legal theory at Oxford before later becoming a writer.
Rice & Peas and Fish & Chips by Pauline Campbell
Pauline Campbell is a senior lawyer at London Borough of Waltham Forest. She was born in East London to Jamaican parents and qualified as a lawyer at 41. Her story is an incredible one and Rice & Peas and Fish & Chips takes the reader through her childhood, teenage and adult eyes. It tells not just a personal story, but one entwined with the political setting and status of her parents’ Windrush generation.
Campbell weaves together humorous experiences of childhood with the reality that racism not only exists, but that it’s part of your everyday lived experience. In conversation with The Waltham Forest Echo, Campbell said the book is “part memoir, part commentary” and “uncovers modern Britain’s structural racist past” while also narrating her journey to “discovering her own identity [and] sense of belonging”. The book reflects on race and racism, identity and belonging set against the context of modern-day Britain.
Pauline has previously been interviewed by LawCareers.Net for Black History Month.
Tribes by David Lammy
Before he became the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy was a barrister. After becoming the first Black Briton to attend Harvard Law School, he was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1994. Tribes is part memoir, part cultural and political analysis. Although his prose often focuses on the political atmosphere in Britain, his words are rooted in his past. In this sense, the reader can feel the significance of his years in the legal sector throughout the text.
Despite this underlying political tone, Lammy makes numerous references to the legal system at large. From his own experience of being “jumped” by police officers at 12-years-old, to his time practising as a barrister in the 1990s, Lammy offers a genuine insight into the significance a legal career may have on your life, even if you enter politics afterwards!
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
This last text isn’t strictly legal… but we think it’s an important one for any aspiring lawyer. In the written version of his popular BBC TV series, Black and British takes the reader through the deep rich history that is Black Britain. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical material, original records, oral testimony, and contemporary interviews Olusoga takes the reader from Roman Britain into Contemporary Britain.
History and law become intertwined throughout Olusoga’s analysis of Black Britain. From the court cases of writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, which led to him purchasing his freedom from slavery in 1766 to the impact of post-war immigration laws on the Windrush generation, the law is integral to every part of British history. The book provides a steadfast foundation of knowledge of the history of Black Britain, including the legal elements.
Katherine Bryant (she/her) is a content and engagement coordinator at LawCareersNet.