Lang­don’s law

A Suf­folk bar­ris­ter’s in­sight to our jus­tice sys­tem

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Cather­ine Larner Š PHOTO: Sophia Schorr-Kon

‘The trickle down of the law af­fects all of us and we take it for granted. I worry we for­get how im­por­tant it is to have the power to hold our govern­ment to ac­count’

“In­ever thought I was clever enough or well-con­nected enough to be a bar­ris­ter,” says Sarah Lang­ford. “I thought you had to have a dou­ble first from Oxbridge and a High Court judge as your god­fa­ther. So I had writ­ten it off for a ca­reer and stud­ied in­stead for an English de­gree.”

Grad­u­at­ing just shy of a first, but feel­ing ill-equipped for life as a lawyer, Sarah still found her­self drawn to the drama and the un­pre­dictabil­ity of the court­room. She sought sec­re­tar­ial work in so­lic­i­tors’ of­fices and took an evening job wait­ing ta­bles, and serv­ing be­hind a bar, just to be among the bar­ris­ters who were stay­ing at a lo­cal pub dur­ing their tri­als. “I found they were nor­mal peo­ple,” she says. “They were just like me.”

In fact, her ex­pe­ri­ence of life, her grounded up­bring­ing and her love of sto­ry­telling make her well-equipped for the role. “You need to be able to talk to peo­ple and to em­pathise, be­cause you have to be able to tell your client’s story. You need to be able to put your­self in their shoes, and to en­cour­age the jury to do so too.” Af­ter qual­i­fy­ing and spend­ing nearly 10 years prac­tis­ing crim­i­nal and fam­ily law, Sarah has taken time out to have chil­dren. This has given her an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on what she has learned and how the pro­fes­sion has changed her.

In Your De­fence presents 11 case stud­ies, com­pelling, fic­tion­alised ac­counts of real cases, sto­ries of burglary, chil­dren taken into care, kid­nap­ping, sexual in­dis­cre­tion, war­ring par­ents, drug-deal­ing. While pre­sent­ing a trou­bled and darker side of hu­man na­ture, the book is up­lift­ing and in­spir­ing, not least for its in­sight to Sarah’s char­ac­ter, re­veal­ing com­pas­sion for her clients and pas­sion for the le­gal sys­tem.

“I wanted to let peo­ple into the law and the court­room, giv­ing them a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how the sys­tem works. I had to find sto­ries which would al­low me to open up dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the law and pre­sent some of the peo­ple caught up in it.”

Sarah hopes that, as a re­sult, peo­ple might be en­cour­aged to chal­lenge news­pa­per head­lines that urge us to sub­scribe to one opin­ion or an­other, and to think around the sit­u­a­tions be­ing re­ported. “The facts may be im­mov­able, but there will be a con­text and a cir­cum­stance which will make you feel dif­fer­ently about a per­son or a sit­u­a­tion. And I hope through read­ing this book peo­ple might also have a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the jus­tice sys­tem.

“The trickle down of the law af­fects all of us and we take it for granted. I worry we for­get how im­por­tant it is to have the power to hold our govern­ment to ac­count, to be able to take some­one to court if they have done some­thing wrong, to stand be­fore a judge and know they haven’t been bribed, aren’t po­lit­i­cal, and will look at the facts and ap­ply the law. If you took away our faith in the rule of law, the im­pact across the whole of life would be pro­found.”

Sarah is con­sid­er­ing re­turn­ing to the Bar in a few months’ time, but is ner­vous about how she will find re­turn­ing to this chal­leng­ing role. “When I started out I was shocked, daily, by the cases I had to read but I be­came ac­cli­ma­tised. Be­cause I’ve had respite from it, I won­der whether I’ve let my guard fall and soft­ened.”

It will also mean a move away from Suf­folk. She and her hus­band, for­mer Ip­swich MP Ben Gum­mer, ren­o­vated a cot­tage out­side Deben­ham, near his par­ents, and have been liv­ing there with their two young sons since Ben lost his seat, and his Lon­don home, in the gen­eral elec­tion last year. Sarah has en­joyed ru­ral life and re­calls child­hood days at her grand­par­ents’ Hamp­shire farm.

“I think if you’ve been brought up with a love of the coun­try­side, there is al­ways that yearn­ing for it. And Deben­ham is re­ally won­der­ful – an easy vil­lage to love.”

In Your De­fence is pub­lished by Doubleday

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