Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Dwarf Who Moved And Other Remarkable Tales From A Life In The Law - Peter Williams QC

The remarkable title comes not from so me sordid tale of gnome stealing, although I'm sure Williams has probably defended a fair few of drunken, pilfering students in his day.  No, the tale is of an attempted murder on a circus performer, by his wife no less.  A tale of intrigue, with humorous twist, trials and tribulations.  This is the lighter side of the anecdotal memoir of one of New Zealand's most pre-eminent criminal barristers. Like Mike Bungay and David Baragwanath Williams looms large in the public mind.  And rightly, too.  In his time in criminal defence Williams has seen it all and everyone. From early days when abortion, homosexuality and even fortune telling were offences to the more sensational cases of wrongful imprisonment and police corruption, Williams has witnessed the defining moments in our legal evolution. This is William's chance to spill the beans on some of his biggest and most public moments with a rich and wise collection of memoir, anecdote and forensic analysis of the trials of Ronald Jorgensen, Arthur Allen Thomas, Mr Asia, James K Baxter, Winston Peters and many more cases (both celebrated and obscure).  Whilst he was always fearless, astute and compassionate, Williams does not shovel the proverbial muck.  The temptation to draw a line, now he's retired, and to slash out at our legal system or reveal the real truth behind might be there but its kept in check.  Williams, ever the gentleman, fading slightly as his battle with cancer perhaps takes some of the edge off the blade but still fair.  This is more an insight into our past more than a Nicky Hager style assault.  In a country as small as New Zealand it would be hard to get away with a true Legal Babylon anyway, and who would read it?  Williams leaves a legacy of anecdotes that remind us why we need lawyers like him - fair and fearless.  From a tale of a stolen red bicycle, his student days boarding, a mysterious fist through the Judas hole, and dynamiting of the High Court in Wellington there are some tall and true. In some cases truth is stranger than fiction, so an open mind also goes a long way. 

Williams, now 79, has a keen legal mind but also empathy for justice, for all.  He questions the growing length of sentences and to what end they will be.  He writes about the erosion of restorative justice in favour of the conservative hard line that faces up the serial criminals with the first timers and asks how this will rehabilitate anybody.  Behind the wig, Williams has trod the same streets as us and he thinks like us, although his gaze has come across many sights more unseemly than we should bear, and he wonders if we are becoming dehumanised to the aims of our justice system.  Perhaps we are more agnostic or complacent or dismissive.  "My fond hope in writing this book is that it may have at least a tendency to humanise its readers by granting a deeper understanding of the legal process and the characters involved."  It's not Rumpole of the Bailey, but it is a good and thoughtful read.  Court adjourned!

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