Jacqueline Levene review of The Jewish Contribution to English Law
8 November 2021
I spent many happy hours appearing before Barrington Black at Harrow Crown Court, and I am therefore delighted to review his latest book, The Jewish Contribution to English Law: Through 1858 to Modern Times. It is a guide to eminent and some not so eminent Jewish lawyers of the 20th and 21st C, with short biographies of many who are in practice or on the Bench today.
The first part traces the history of the Jews from Biblical times to the Middle Ages, their arrival into Britain, the persecution and prohibitions to which they were subjected throughout the centuries, and charts changing attitudes, and the progress made by Jews with the opening up of universities, the professions and politics. It is an interesting, well-researched, erudite and often humorous account of this aspect of Jewish history.
The next section is an account following the Jewish Relief Act 1858, with the emergence of Jews who rose to prominence and influence in society. There are fascinating profiles of early legal luminaries, such as Joshua Montefiore, and Sir John Simon, and of course, Sir George Jessel MR and Sir Rufus Isaacs MR.
Moving into present times, the author outlines the lives of the Jews who have reached the highest judicial posts, Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls (three in succession), and more recently the Supreme Court, whose influence can also be felt in the wider reaches of the Jewish community. There are then snapshots of the many judges in the lower courts, and thumbnail profiles of QCs and barristers, some of whom also made their way into politics.
The author also includes colourful and entertaining profiles of distinguished Jewish solicitors who have made an outstanding contribution to the law. Followers of other religions were subject to the same restrictions as Jews, and he has included various Muslim and Hindu barristers who, in recent years, have taken silk or become judges, creating much greater diversity within the law.
The book is well-written, and clearly a labour of love for the author, who has obviously enjoyed his days in the Law and the people with whom he has worked.
Jacqueline Levene LLB (Hons), Honorary Secretary, UK Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.