Changing the law

Paul Foot

  • A Radical Lawyer in Victorian England: W.P. Roberts and the Struggle for Workers’ Rights by Raymond Challinor
    Tauris, 302 pp, £14.95, June 1990, ISBN 1 85043 150 7

Whoever thought up the title for this book must have wished it ill. The notion of a radical lawyer in Victorian England is profoundly distasteful. The word ‘radical’ is used both by revolutionaries and reactionaries to pretend that they are not what they are. Comfortable, distinguished and pompous lawyers are apt to describe themselves as ‘radical’ when they take time off from earning their enormous fees to flirt with a little prison reform on the side. Such people flourished hugely in ‘Victorian England’. Common to all of them was the belief that the judicial system handed down through the ages was a guarantee of fairness and justice, and that legal ‘radicalism’ needed to be securely confined in the law courts. Most of these gentlemen were not worth an obituary, let alone a biography.

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