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Court-room dramas hold an endless fascination, but they are often a pale shadow of the real thing. Consider for example the case of the young man who, after being acquitted of his girlfriend’s murder, was challenged by the dead girl’s brother in a procedure which had not been used since the middle ages.
It failed, but the facts of the case were recalled over a century later by another tragedy, which eerily mirrored them. Or the case of the vicar’s son convicted of cattle mutilation who was cleared, not as a result of diligent police work, but by the creator of England’s most famous fictional detective.
This book contains a number of ‘unsolved mysteries’, like the murder of a magistrate which nearly ended the career, even the life, of Samuel Pepys. Other curiosities concern the quaint rules by which pirates were once bound and Parliament’s continuing concern for outlaws’ rights. Even the foggier crannies of the law can offer up their amusements, like the rhyming will which was put up for probate and the extraordinary story of how the law of cremation was reformed by an eccentric Welsh doctor and a Hindu ex-soldier.
Told by a retired barrister, the tales in this book illustrate the role of the law in resisting oppression, whether from robber barons or modern governments. Selected for their intrinsic interest, the tales highlight lessons concerning the nature of justice and the diversity – sometimes the unknowability - of human conduct.