:- Unjust deserts
Helena Kennedy QC, best-known for her pioneering civil liberties work, argues in a new book that the law’s treatment of women is symptomatic of a much broader, deeper malaise. Sue Wilson does a spot of cross-examination.
‘Most people at the Bar, most of the judiciary, have never set foot in a council house.‘ It‘s a simple point but, like most of those with which Glasgow-born QC Helena Kennedy defends her corner, a telling one. Currently that corner is the issue of inequality before the law —- in her new book, Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice, she illustrates how vast and dangerous is the disparity, in terms of social class and everyday experience, between the majority of legal professionals and most of the women and men who pass through the courts, arguing that this gulf in understanding leads to judgements so transparently unjust as to undermine ordinary people‘s trust in the law.
Eve Was Framed describes the multifarious ways women are let down by a legal system in which most of the rules, procedures and practices are established and maintained by an highly privileged, insular, white male elite. From the discrimination she herself has encountered over the years, to recent headline cases like the Sara Thornton conviction, she lays bare the sometimes
Helena Kennedy oc: ‘lt's like getting rid oi worms'
breathtakingly blatant. often alarmingly insidious, mechanisms ofprejudice.
‘One of the things I find most interesting about this whole subject is unravelling the way mythologies work, and.‘ Kennedy says, ‘halfthe problem is how subtle the whole process is; people who don‘t see it can‘t clock into it. You‘re talking about things which live in the interstices of the system — it‘s like getting rid of worms, or something. In courtrooms the mythology often tends to work to men‘s advantage - like the business of women's credibility, of women making
things up about sexual assault because of some
hysterical fantasy life they lead — unless they‘re black; then a whole different mythology comes into play.‘
Though her primary focus is on women, Kennedy emphasises that the implications of her
argument extend much further. ‘The experience of women,‘ she writes. ‘is a paradigm of that which
faces any person. male or female. who is not part
' ofthe dominant culture‘ — not only women, but
poor people, black people, lesbians and gay men, among others, routinely encounter the rougher
Eve Was Framed is the liveliness of its language. Stating at the start that ‘this is a polemic about the 3 law. not an academic exercise’, Kennedy paints a 5 vivid picture of the justice system at work — the 7 routine and atmosphere of a barristers‘ chambers,
‘ clearly and succinctly. without resort to jargonistic
, has to be approachable, that we have to stop using " off-putting language,‘ says Kennedy. explaining
' the thinking behind her prose-style. ‘So I wanted
to demonstrate that it is actually possible to discuss
‘ user-friendly, to both clients and putative ‘ practitioners. as an urgent one. ‘The reason I think
feeling very alienated; there‘s a sense of
‘ powerlessness in relation to the whole political
; system, there‘s the way in which the exposure of police rule-breaking has rattled people, the City
suddenly all these certainties are being looked at
again, and it‘s very unnerving for people. Which
i makes it all the more imperative that we do
i something about the fact that many people see the .‘ law as belonging to Them, this elite in long wigs
* and fancy outfits, when in fact the law should
In addition to the courage of the book‘s convictions, and the doughty weight ofevidence it marshals, perhaps the most impressive thing about
for instance — communicating intricate legal points
gobbledegook. "Throughout the book, I‘m arguing that the law
legal issues in an accessible way. I think people invent that language in their own interests; much ofthe time it just obfuscates rather than helping the listener to understand.‘
Kennedy sees this need to make the law more
it‘s so important now is that people are generally
being riddled with corruption, even the royal family being questioned and scrutinised —
belong to the people.‘
Eve Was Framed is published by Chatto & Windus at £16. 99.
Helena Kennedy will be talking about her book in Waterstone's. George Street, Edinburgh on Wed 27. See Book E vents listings for details.
_ z Dark
Just as ‘tragic’ and ‘meiodramatic’ have come to mean something slightly removed irom their literary origins, so too has ‘gothic' become almost exclusively linked to extravagantly macabre architecture. So when a new anthology called The Picador Book at the New Gothic comes along, one is
gothic in its buildings.’
Editors Patrick McGraih (lett)
oi decay and min expressed by the old
This notion oi internalised brooding I on death, disease and the pressures at modern living as a Iiterarytrend is certainly the dark seam that runs through the book as a whole. What : i McGrath calls ‘the spirit oi Edgar Allen , Poe' is present to some extent in each piece, from the sullied iairytaie purity
at Robert Coover’s Snow White coda, The Dead Queen, to the urban breakdown oi Yannlck Murphy’s The I Fish Keeper. By including some novel extracts— irom the likes oi Amis’
i more violent society than we were a
generation ago, we’re more aware oi sexual abuse, at bizarre patterns oi
1 human behaviourthat have arisen in the post-war period for all sorts oi
j complicated social reasons.’
1 This is where the Picador Book oi the
New Gothic succeeds: by using the .
§ term not as a restrictive academic i
pigeon-hole, but as a relevant way oi
: describing an emotional response to
I the darker side oi contemporary liie 5 within an ongoing literarytradition. i
. Blood, Janice Galloway‘s tale oi a
; schoolglri‘stripto the dentist is, l
tempted to dismiss it as yet another contrived attempt to lump together various horror stories. Not so with this particular volume: with contributions by writers as diverse as Peter Straub, Jeanette Winterson and Martin Amis, it is obvious that this is not merely a collection oi twist-in-the-taie scares, but one which otters up a detlned thesis tor argument.
‘Gothlc is a very vigorous genre in Iiterature,’ explains Patrick McGrath, co-editor oi the anthology with iellow
and Bradtord Morrow
novelist Bradiord Morrow. ‘You can see
it moving right through the 19th century
and well into the 20th. What distinguishes it now irom traditional gothic iiction is the sense at it being internalised and not being so much about architecture, about trappings or sets. it is now much more a state at mind, particularly an extreme, rather deranged state at mind —the contemporary equivalent at the sense
London Fields, Anne Rice’s interview With The Vampire and Ruth Rendell’s King Solomon's Carpet-the editors show that the New Gothic is present with equal weight in popular and critically acclaimed iiction.
‘Why is it that iiction is so much
‘ preoccupied with these dark, otten
violent areas oi human experience?‘
asks McGrath. ‘l would guess that it is ‘ because in these times we are made * more aware ot deranged extremes oi
behaviour. We‘re probably living in a
; according to McGrath, ‘the periect
example oi how horror is maniiest in just being alive'. By being able to compare and contrast individual works
oi this ilavour, the anthology invites the
reader into a post-nuclear world oi paranoia and disintegration, vividly painted in various shades oi black. (Alan Morrison)
The Picador Book oi the New Gothic is I publishedin Picador hardback at 1 £15.99.
._-_ - .-_-.-____J
List 23 Cctobe‘r — 5 November 1992 57