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Finding sanctuary in poetry during lockdown


Lawyers' poems deal with trials of delivering lockdown justice*

‘Collection published written by and dedicated to those who have kept the system going.’

‘I need to get a bookcase for the background of my Zoom

I need to get a bookcase for an intellectual room

I can’t appear in court with this background that I’ve got

That washing horse is far too close the Judge will see the lot.

That acute sensitivity about exposing domestic lives through remote working is one of the recurring themes in an anthology of legal lyrics published this week.

The frustrations of our confined lives have inspired a chorus of confessions, drawing on the sense that although lockdown is only 10 weeks old it feels like an eternity.

Some courts have adapted rapidly to remote working or have simply closed, but others still require lawyers, defendants, court staff and witnesses to appear for urgent cases.

The book is written by and dedicated to legal aid practitioners who have kept the justice system going. The verses reflect the predicament of millions who are working from home while coping with childcare, video conferencing and the pandemic.

Jon Whitfield QC of Doughty Street Chambers in London, who co-edited the collection Lockdown Lawyers said the 50-plus poems – including haikus, parodies and extended ballads – cover “falling revenue, falling ceilings, the fear of infection in dirty courts, police stations and prisons with no PPE, the despair of clients in custody or facing huge challenges with cases postponed indefinitely”.

Whitfield, who also sits as a judge in the court of protection and is a trustee of the Winchester poetry festival, said he asked himself: “How has the publicly funded legal system survived this pandemic at all, given it has endured 35 years of cuts whilst saddled with huge increases in expense and workload?

“However, as I pondered and read the contributions, I realised the answer is simple. It is the lawyers that work themselves to a standstill to keep a broken system going … Despite the endless worry of practice, multiplied by the pandemic they still find time to support each other, smile, be creative.”

Emma Trevett, a paralegal at the law firm Irwin Mitchell based in Bristol, came up with the idea after organising virtual events during the Covid-19 crisis that frequently ended with a poem being read.

“I sent out a message on Twitter calling for anonymous poetry from legal aid lawyers,” she said. “I was astounded by the response. Poems flooded in from around the country. I was surprised to find other lawyers that regularly wrote poetry and, that those who did not were excited to have a go.”

Contributors include judges, QCs, the Secret Barrister blogger, other barristers and solicitors and law centre staff. None of the poems are individually signed, allowing writers the freedom to express themselves anonymously. It is published by the Legal Action Group (LAG). Funds raised will be donated to the Law Centres Network.

COVID Limerick No 5

It’s all very well to do Zoom,

but it’s better to be in the room.

One misses the ‘tells’,

the ticks and the smells,

there’s a danger injustice will loom!’

* This article by Owen Bowcott, the Guardian's legal affairs correspondent was first published in The Guardian/Observer on Sunday 31 May 2020.

Photo: The Guardian

“Never Forgotten”*

‘Darkness follows the passing of the light,

Emotions peaked to almost eternal night

We persevere our senses heighten,

Gradually the pressure starts to lighten

Pushing through and pressing strong

Where there was one, we are together, an increasing throng.

The devastation, the chaos, it passes

The level of sacrifice not forgotten by the masses.’- *Guernica 37's Carl Buckley contributed  to Lockdown Lawyers with a piece entitled "Never Forgotten”

‘Lockdown Lawyers is an anthology of poetry on how the COVID-19 crisis has hit legal aid lawyers and the provision of advice and advocacy. There are over 50 contributions from barristers, solicitors, advisers and some of their family members. The poems range from haiku to multi-page poems and touch upon crime, mental health, the lack of courts and how practitioners are coping working from home (or not).

Edited by Emma Trevett and Jon Whitfield QC, Lockdown Lawyers aims to mark what has been the most unusual and difficult of times, showing how despite the decades of cuts we as a sector have coped. It aims to raise a smile and most importantly, all proceeds to the book will be donated to Law Centres Network to continue their work for the most vulnerable people in society. Visit the website here and order your copy of Lockdown Lawyers.’

Related articles from the GCGI archives:

Finding sanctuary in poetry during lockdown

On the 250th Birthday of William Wordsworth Let Nature be our Wisest Teacher

The Sweetness of Being Human: ‘We have all of us one human heart.’