REVIEW of Our Corrupt Legal System by Evan Whitton

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John Turnbull reviews five-time Walkley Award winning journalist Evan Whitton’s latest book ‘Our Corrupt Legal System; Why Everyone Is a Victim (Except Rich Criminals)’.

[Read Evan Whitton’s recent article for Independent Australia by clicking here.]

In case the title didn’t give it away, journalist Evan Whitton has a problem with our legal system. By ‘Our’ he means Australia, Great Britain and the United States — the great white ‘Us’ that has ruled over the world for the last few hundred years.

If you happen to live in France or Germany, the author positively loves your legal system. This is because our Continental friends operate under an investigative system of law, while we operate under an adversarial system. The idea behind the investigative system of law is that a trial should be a search for the truth, which reduces the need for lawyers and cuts time spent in court significantly.

By contrast, the adversarial system works on the assumption that the best way to find the truth is to get two highly trained (and paid) advocates to argue the legal merits of the case. As anyone who has ever watched an episode of Law and Order knows, this is not generally the case.

Whitton takes a comprehensive approach to the subject, kicking off in 2,700BC and focusing heavily on the Roman Empire and the role of Sophists in introducing ‘the art of lying’ to the lawyerly profession. This approach works well in terms of providing background to the legal shenanigans of today, but it does get to be a bit heavy-going, slogging through page after annotated page of obscure legal practitioners and their corrupt goings-on.

The book gets a lot more interesting when Whitton focuses on recent cases, many of which readers will be aware of perhaps without realising their significance. From Lindy Chamberlain to OJ Simpson, we see how judges and lawyers operate to obscure the truth in the service of what they call justice.  Whitton also examines the practice of libel tourism, where criminals and rich bastards from around the world sue people for libel in England based on dodgy laws that have been in place since the 1600s.

Akin to a Michael Moore documentary, Our Corrupt Legal System does not try to present a balanced argument. The word lie is used a lot. Whitton seems to work from the position that the police can do no wrong, and the method they use to find evidence should not weigh on whether it is used in court or not. The Judge Dredd approach, basically.

If you think lawyers are basically good (or, say, if you are one) then you’ll probably write this book off as fascist propaganda. If you didn’t like lawyers before reading this book, you’ll really hate them by the time you finish it. For instance, did you know that when lawyers get made judges, they don’t have to do any additional training?

Some of the figures quoted to support Whitton’s position are questionable, particularly that of Alan Dershowitz, who is repeatedly quoted as saying that 99 per cent of accused are probably guilty. The conviction rate in Australia, the US and UK is less than 50 per cent of accused, versus a claimed 95 per cent in France and Germany.

An interesting read that will probably make you angry at least once.

(‘Our Corrupt Legal System; Why Everyone Is a Victim (Except Rich Criminals)’, ISBN 9781921681073, Bookpal, 2010.)

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