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BOOK REVIEW Brief Encounters of a Legal Kind

by Aubrey Rose

Reviewed by: Anna Dangoor

Aubrey Rose's book "Brief Encounters of a Legal Kind" is a wonderful insight into the many different facets of human nature. Rose talks with a frankness and honesty that makes this book almost autobiographical, although I found his style sometimes too confident, and sure of itself.

The book is divided into chapters which consist of an introduction followed by the story of a related legal case. In the introductions Rose reveals his multitudinous knowledge of a great variety of cultures, and communities that he worked with closely, and marvels at how he was often taken deeply into their trust, having been invited to become the leader of a Torvil council in England, and mediating for a West Indian community during the fraught time of the Brixton riots.

Rose's own Jewish background also features in the book, Jewish ideas often being turned to, when he is contemplating the situations he has experienced; situations which have taken him to New York, Paris, Geneva, and allowed him to work with Jamaicans, Nigerians, Sri Lankans and many other peoples.

Of all Rose's "encounters" my two favourite are most definitely "A Night for St Patrick" and "The One Day Case". "A night for St Patrick" tells of a case in which Rose was acting in defence of a man called Danny who had been involved in a pub brawl in Kilburn. The police had arrived to break up the fight, and having seen nothing, arrested Danny. The main witness, who had had to have 48 stitches in his face, because a broken bottle had been thrust into it, allegedly by Danny, took the stand. Rose summarises what was said, and it quickly emerges much to the embarrassment of the prosecution, that the witness has no idea who in fact had injured him. Furthermore, even after sustaining his injuries he threw himself wholeheartedly back into the fight, claiming to have "given more than I got". The different perspective that this witness could take on a situation, which to the prosecution, Rose, and also myself seemed horrific, is fascinating, and as Rose notes it indeed provides a window into "another world".

My other favourite anecdote "The One Day Case" reveals Rose's ability for perception, and quick thinking. He describes how he was approached by a South African mother whose son David had been taken into custody in "one of Johannesberg's most notorious police stations". The reason for his incarceration was simply that he had been teaching English to black students, and although his mother had mounted an international campaign for his release she had had no success; the South African government would not budge. Action was required immediately but the English courts could do nothing to help, and Rose realised that he would have no sway in the South African courts either.

Inspired by the actions of a Polish lawyer years earlier, Rose decided the only course of action was to write to the Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher. The timing was perfect, as Thatcher was due to attend a Heads of the Commonwealth meeting in which she was one of the only figures defending South Africa against sanctions. Rose sent a copy of the letter that he was sending to Margaret Thatcher to the South African embassy, and because the loss of her support would have been so detrimental to South Africa, David was released by 2.00 pm that afternoon. As Rose had expected, a week later he received a reply from Margaret Thatcher's secretary saying that regrettably she could be of no help in the matter.

"Brief Encounters of a Legal Kind" is a book about generosity and greed, cruelty and kindness, about the best, and the worst sides of human nature. Through his stories Aubrey Rose confirms that time old saying that gives its name to the penultimate chapter of the book, "there's nowt so queer as folk"!

Naim Dangoor writes: Mrs Thatcher's reply that she cannot help is what she is supposed to write, that she cannot interfere in the course of governmental business. However she often took action behind the scenes if the case merited her help.

In fact, she helped our community in London twice; once by instructing the Inland Revenue not to charge us Capital Gains Tax on the profits of sale of our property and secondly, by helping us with our planning application.



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