Marshall Hall - A Law unto Himself Sally Smith

The important role of media in advocating our judgment upon people and policies goes without question. How we work round media to form right judgment on these under God is both a personal challenge and, where necessary, in the public domain, a legal one. Advocacy - standing by people and policies - is a fascinating topic of immense relevance to the health of society yet it’s legal side is rather closed to folk unschooled in law. This very readable book handed me by a friend in the legal profession opened my eyes to the heart of court proceedings. Sally Smith QC’s biography of the legend Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC tells the graphic tale of one who ‘saved more people from the hangman’s noose than any other known barrister’.



Sally Smith deftly takes us back a century to times when our legal process was handled by an establishment lacking compassion and blatantly favouring the rich and powerful. Marshall Hall rose in that establishment but the vagaries of his life lent him empathy and a passion for the underdog. His legal knowledge was complemented both by harsh life experience and a remarkable gift of oratory so that thousands gathered to await verdicts in trials he appeared at. His legendary capacity to entertain and distract in court, unthinkable in just process today, is resonant of how media can so often work to the detriment of the truth. His achievement in swaying juries linked to his harsh life experience even if, as the title warns, he was ‘a law unto himself’. Obeying that inner law no doubt did harm but, as Sally Smith outlines, it also did great good not least for many facing the hangman’s noose.

This is a lucid and gripping book summarised helpfully on its last page: ‘Marshall was the ultimate exponent of total advocacy: he lived his entire life as though the world was one huge courtroom and its inhabitants a universal jury to beguile. He cared little or nothing for the restraints of his profession, or for the discipline of the law; but he introduced the concept of compassion into a legal system in which it was lacking, was universally adored and trusted by those whom that system is meant to serve, made speeches of such extraordinary power that they have lived on for more than a century and, most important of all, saved many lives. No other lawyer could claim that.’

Marshall Hall - A Law unto Himself  Sally Smith
Wiley, Simmonds & Hill Publishing 2016 £25  ISBN 9780854901876 302pp


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