I recently started reading a new book called Our Corrupt Legal System: Why Everyone Is a Victim (Except Rich Criminals).
Regular readers will understand immediately why I would be interested in a book with a title like that. But I'm happy to report that the book, by Australian journalist Evan Whitton, has much more going for it than a captivating title. It is an insightful and scathing critique of the common-law adversarial justice system, which began in Great Britain and spread to its colonies, including the United States and Canada.
To top it off, Whitton includes the best lawyer joke we've ever heard.
What is the crux of Whitton's argument? He says the British adversarial system has failed us and should be replaced with an inquisitorial model that prevails in much of Europe. Whitton provides a simple chart that shows how the two systems stack up:
Seeks truth Yes No
Conceals evidence No Yes
In charge of evidence Judges Lawyers
Length of hearings About a day Months
Conviction rates 95 % 50 %
Innocent in prison Rare 1-5 %
The Age newspaper of Australia recently presented a profile of Whitton and examined his latest work:
Whitton has spent 30 years covering crime, corruption and courts, using a keen eye, an inquisitive mind and rare research talents to produce unique essays that shine lights into dark places. His opinions are backed by facts, and the former journalist of the year has concluded our court system is irreparably broken.
Even more startlingly, he has discovered there is something morally lower than a working hack from the press: criminal lawyers. It would appear he believes such creatures think that Integrity is a small island in the South Pacific and Scruples a board game played following after-dinner mints.
Whitton holds lawyers in even lower esteem than I do. No wonder I like this guy. And he has a prescription for what ails our sickly justice system:
He argues in his new book Our Corrupt Legal System, Where Everyone is a Victim (Except Rich Criminals) that the British adversarial system has failed and we should move to the European inquisitorial model.
He says the European system is cleaner and less open to abuse than our present process, which is unnecessarily complicated and designed not to discover but to hide the truth. He believes lawyers, judges and politicians (many of them former lawyers) are wedded to a process that is too expensive and fails too often.
He writes that the European model empowers judges to find evidence and discourages lawyers from concealing it. Trials are quicker and more just.
Whitton has a sense of humor about the whole corrupt enterprise:
''The adversary system is biased against people in business, industry, medicine and the media and in favour of criminals,'' Whitton writes. ''The bias makes business for trial lawyers and the rule of law a joke in the worst possible taste.''
Lawyers work for their clients and routinely ignore facts that do not suit their arguments, he says. ''Controlling evidence enables them to omit the damaging bits; spin out the pre-trial and trial process; procure enough pelf to retire comfortably, if they choose, to the social status of untrained, uninformed and passive judge.
''Judges, of course, do the decent thing: they try to stay awake.''
Oh, and about that lawyer joke . . .
How do you save a lawyer from drowning?
Shoot him before he hits the water.