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Book Review: 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt' by Gary Bell QC

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About The Author

Connor Griffith (Consulting Editor)

Connor is a law graduate from the University of Nottingham with a particular interest in intellectual property and corporate law. He recently completed the LPC and is waiting to begin his training contract with a large national firm. Outside the law, he enjoys stand-up comedy and moaning about Brexit.

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Most cases are won and lost on their facts. We can only make any sort of difference in the small minority. Results are important, of course, but in the long run, things will always even themselves out.

Gary Bell QC

Balancing suspense and high-stakes drama with intelligent and compelling characters, it is no wonder that the legal thriller genre has spread like wildfire. On 13 June 2019, a new legal protagonist will enter the fray: Elliot Rook QC.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt, written by Gary Bell QC, doubles both as an exhilarating legal thriller and a persuasive commentary on the modern legal system in England & Wales. For fans of legal thrillers and last-minute twists, Beyond Reasonable Doubt is well worth the read.

Introducing Elliot Rook QC

The book is the first instalment of the forthcoming Elliot Rook QC series. Despite the title of ‘Queen’s Counsel’, however, Rook is a mile apart from the majority of his peers: rather than attending Eton, as his colleagues believe of him, Rook spent his youth causing trouble with his friends in the poverty-stricken mining communities of Nottingham. Following a brief stint in prison and living on the streets, Rook left the mines and trouble behind as he moved to London to pursue a career in the law.

After decades of practising as a barrister, however, Rook’s past resurfaces following the gruesome murder of an unidentified Middle Eastern girl, her body being discovered on the railway line built above the abandoned mine in which Rook spent his youth. The key suspect of the murder is Billy Barber, a local far-right hooligan that is as violent and brutish as he is racist and sexist. Barber, the older brother of Rook’s late best friend from his youth, demands that Rook represent him at trial. Under threat that his past be exposed, Rook has no choice but to return to a world he had previously left behind. With the help of an eager pupil barrister, Zara Barnes, the pair search for truth in a world of deceit and death. The result is a story of intrigue, last-minute twists, and humour (how many books, for example, involve a barrister using his wits to stop himself from being murdered outside a hotel, only to then convince his would-be killers to drive him to a pop-up brothel in the middle of the night?)

Beyond Reasonable Doubt represents a promising start for the ‘Rook and Rookie’ duo: fans of the legal thriller genre would do well to add this book to their summer reading list.

Commentary

In addition to the main narrative, it is the social commentary that sets Beyond Reasonable Doubt apart from its competitors.

As mentioned above, Rook’s participation in the railway murder trial is brought about by fear that public exposure of his past – an impoverished existence consisting of impertinence and crime – would cause his ostracization from elite and affluent colleagues. Likewise, his trusty sidekick, Zara, with her Nottingham accent and non-Russell Group law degree, was almost denied pupillage by Rook’s chambers due, in essence, to her inability to afford a train ticket that would have got her to the interview on time.

After looking at the story behind the author of Beyond Reasonable Doubt, it becomes clear where Gary Bell QC got the inspiration for his leading protagonist: his own life. As discussed in his autobiography, ‘Animal QC: My Preposterous Life’, Bell ‘grew up in a condemned slum terrace and then a Nottinghamshire pit village’, spent a decade ‘either homeless or working in a strange variety of jobs’ and was eventually convicted of fraud – much like Elliot Rook QC, Bell hardly took the traditional path into the law.

It is therefore unsurprising that the issue of social diversity within the legal profession is so prominent in Beyond Reasonable Doubt. The book opens, for example, with Rook listening to his senior clerk, Percy – a ‘blond mannequin of Savile Row quality, with zirconia veneers’ – lament that there was ‘not a whiff of Oxbridge’ in that year’s set of pupillage applicants, particularly as the chambers had ‘certain standards to maintain’. When discussing Zara, a working-class mixed-race girl, Percy dismissed her almost immediately and stated that he was ‘not surprised [Zara] couldn’t afford’ an earlier train ticket, based on her outfit consisting of ‘all man-made fibres [without] a thread of actual cotton’ and her ‘real northern monkey’ accent. These unpleasant attitudes towards those that fail to depict the traditional elite image continue to re-emerge throughout the book, including Zara later noting how her previous chambers had merely offered her pupillage as a diversity ‘mascot’, only to be let go once an Equality and Diversity Committee investigation into those chambers had concluded.

Despite seeming dramatic, these social diversity issues are as prevalent in today’s legal industry as ever. Children of lawyers are 17 times more likely to have a career in the law than those with non-lawyer parents. In 2017, women in law firms made up ‘59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners’, with 52% of women in the law believing unconscious bias is the top reason that they struggle to progress at work. Compared to only 7% of the general population attending fee paying schools, this number rises to 22% when it comes to lawyers. 

Attempts are being made to provide greater social diversity in the law. Examples include the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 requiring companies to become more transparent about gender pay gaps, and growing numbers of firms and chambers adopting the ‘Contextual Recruitment System’, which allows:

recruiters to see a candidate’s achievements in the context of which they were gained – taking into consideration postcode, school quality, eligibility for free school meals, refugee status and time spent in care.

However, there are still large steps to be taken to close the gaps between the opportunities afforded to the rich and denied to the poor. For this reason, books such as Beyond Reasonable Doubt play an important role in society: they keep the conversation about diversity going. Perhaps more importantly, they widen the breadth of that conversation: these issues will never gain the traction they deserve unless they are able to make the transition from academic studies to mainstream reading. Beyond Reasonable Doubt achieves this, combining a thrilling plot with consideration for a serious societal matter, opening up the issue of social inequality in the law to more readers. If the sequels to this inceptive novel continue to achieve this balance, the Elliot Rook QC series will certainly be one to keep an eye on.

Gary Bell QC’s ‘Beyond Reasonable Doubt’ is available to purchase as of Thursday 13 June 2019. He tweets @garybellqc.

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Tagged: Criminal Law, Equality, Review

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