Book 26 – Murmuring Judges

Book – Murmuring Judges
Author – David Hare
Year – 1991
Genre – Play, Legal
Pages – 109

The phrase ‘murmering judges’ comes from the Scottish legal system and refers to the – still illegal – act of criticising a judge, and carries a potential prison sentence.  Were that to still be an offence south of the border, I can imagine that David Hare would find himself guilty at some point.

Covering three social levels within the law – the barristers at the top of the tree, the police who capture the criminals, and those who are locked up in prison.  The plot is pretty thin on the ground, but roughly follows a young female lawyer and an ambitious policewoman who uncover injustices in the system – be they due to bent police or a lack of moral integrity amongst lawyers – and how they go about dealing with it.  By far, instead of the plot, the focus of the play is on Hare’s perception of the law in this country, and the inadequacies of it.  And as such it is very successful.  He provokes a lot of thought – how much justice can be done when the people at the top are more about money and posturing than the people that they serve, when is it acceptable for a policeman to do something illegal if it helps to catch criminals, what price is put on those who wind up in prison for a single mistake – and delivers his arguments in a clever, obviously biased, yet not condescending way.

As a piece of theatre however, I can see that it may be a stretch.  With a cast of twenty five, some of whom only appear for a few seconds and must be of particular races or looks, it is not the kind of thing that you are going to see your local school or am dram group do.  But of course, that is not the point of this, or much else of Hare’s work.  Instead, it is to be read – and indeed watched – more as a political essay than a masterpiece of plot and story.  So while it is appreciated, it is not the most exciting thing I have read, although at twenty years of age, still pertinent today.


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