Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror

A respected Pakistani doctor living in England is arrested and imprisoned on the suspicion of being a terrorist.  Citing national security concerns, the government refuses to release any specific information to the accused’s attorneys regarding the particulars of the evidence against him.  The case appears hopeless and it is almost certain that the accused will remain incarcerated indefinitely without trial.  The accused’s desperate wife turns to an experienced criminal barrister for help.  What will happen next?

When the experienced criminal barrister is Horace Rumpole we can expect hilarity along with a painless lesson in the highest ideals of British Justice.  Published in 2006 when Rumpole’s alter ego and creator John Mortimer was 82 (Mortimer died in 2009 at age 85) this novel was Mortimer’s criticism of the anti-terrorism laws passed by the government of then Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Author John Mortimer with the latest installment of his most famous creation.

Rumpole, who has been about age seventy something since the mid 1990s, never changes.  Neither does his wife Hilda and the entire cast of characters who practice law at Number 4 Equity Court.  In this outing Hilda buys a laptop computer which she hides away in a spare bedroom while she writes her memoirs.  There is a lot for Hilda to write about since Judge Bullingham, who Rumpole calls “The Mad Bull,” is actively pursuing Hilda after divorcing his wife.

Rumpole, of course, still doesn’t even know how to turn a computer on and takes notes with a fountain pen.  The Shakespeare and Wordsworth quoting barrister has what the government considers to be quaint notions about the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.  Witness Rumpole’s exchange with the “New Labour” Home Secretary:

‘Let me ask you this, Mr. Rumpole.  How do you take notes in court nowadays?’

‘I use a pen and my notebook.’  I gave him a truthful answer.

‘A pen!’  The Bristol accent rose to a high pitch of contempt.  ‘Would that be like . . . a quill pen by any chance?’

There were laughs from the audience, but I put him right.

‘No.  It’s a fountain pen.’

‘Really.  How very professional.  So you’re not computer literate?’

‘I’m literate.  I know very little about computers.’

‘That’s the trouble with your sort of lawyer, Mr. Rumpole.  You can’t move with the times.  Things like jury trials and the presumption of innocence may have been all very well in their day.  But times change.  History moves on.  We need quicker and more reliable results.  Modernize, Mr. Rumpole.  That’s what you need to do.’

Needless to say when it comes to the sacred rights guaranteed to Englishmen since King John issued Magna Carta, Rumpole will never compromise.

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