Friday, November 4, 2011

Barrack-Room Lawyers

Barrack-room Lawyers (BRL) must surely be distinguished from Jailhouse Lawyers (JHL) who comprise an honoured and dedicated collective.

For me, a BRL is often just a pain, an embarrassment.  It is a prisoner who is forever bleating that something or other is "agaisnt human rights".  But, in constrast to the JHL, the BRL is a prisoner who has rarely even read the ECHR and whose only use for The Times Law Reports is as material for an emergency cigarette paper.

The BRL may have a dim but certain realisation that "rights" do exist, and he shares with the JHL the knowledge that the law does not stop at the prison gates.  But that is the extent of the common ground.  The BRL does, if anything, make the life of JHL more difficult on the prison landings.  By being unable to add legal substance to his vague assertions, the BRL diminishes the weight of the rules, the law, in the eyes of prison staff.

Prison regulations and the legal context within which they sit are complex and ever-shifting.  They are not shallow waters in which to paddle on a whim, rather they are a deep pool into which the earnest prisoner must immerse himself.

The Law can be a keen-edged weapon.  Misuse it, deploy it ineptly, and you dull its edge to the detriment of the next prisoner who wields it.


  1. By casting a rock into deep waters, you make waves, they then become the ripples in shallow water.

    Each to their own, some are deep, some arn't, there is a role for everyone in these times of change.

    Although you guys are at the cutting edge of the law, and it'd be wise to research and know your stuff, the fact remains that the law is an ass.

  2. Personally, I'm a great believer that every con is (and should be) entitled to 'do their bird' and behave in any way THEY see fit, - without fear of censure from their fellow prisoners.

    I'd be the first to congratulate Ben on his academic achievements (of which I have none!) - And the things he has helped change for the good inside our jails. But to dismiss those without such accolades, as having no valid part to play in ‘the struggle’ is, best, dismissive.

    As someone who fought many, both mental and physical battles against the authorities (sometimes alongside men who could neither read nor write!) I find the tone of Ben's latest post really quite 'snobbish'.

    Conflict is not always about the bigger picture. My own clashes with the screws were more likely to be about the day-to-day liberties being taken, as opposed to the right to vote or whatever. And I paid the price in full for my own beliefs.

    Different roads, - but similar scars I guess.

  3. If you are dealing with rational people then all opinion's are pertinent. The only difference would be the level of knowledge that a person's opinion is based on.
    BRLs are not so well educated in legal matters, and therefore are more likely to inadvertently misinform other people, therefore creating unnecessary stress and controversy.


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