In your defence: Stories of life and law

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In your defence: Stories of life and law


Langford, S. (2020). In your defence: Stories of life and law. Leicester: Charnwood; Anstey, Leicestershire: F.A. Thorpe.

Author and Publication Information

Sarah Langford is a practicing barrister since 2006, specializing in criminal and family law. She studied English at the University of the West of England and then completed a law conversion course. She received a scholarship from Gray’s Inn of Court and trained as a barrister. Langford has been practicing both in London and across the UK. She lives with her husband and two sons in London and Suffolk.

Publication Context: The book was first published in 2018 by Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld Publishers. The first Charnwood edition was published in 2020 by arrangement with Transworld Publishers.

Intellectual & Historical Context

“In Your Defence” is set against the backdrop of the British legal system, providing an insider’s view of the courtroom and the intricacies of criminal and family law. Sarah Langford, through her experiences as a barrister, presents a narrative that blends personal anecdotes with broader legal principles and societal issues. The book emerged during a period of increasing public interest in the legal profession, partly spurred by popular media portrayals of courtroom dramas and the human stories behind legal cases. It also reflects ongoing debates about access to justice, legal aid cuts, and the human impact of legal decisions.

Thesis Statement

Langford’s “In Your Defence” posits that the legal system, often perceived as rigid and impersonal, is fundamentally intertwined with human stories that reveal deep societal truths. Through the recounting of eleven cases, Langford demonstrates how the law impacts individuals’ lives, challenging stereotypes about both the legal profession and those who find themselves entangled in it.

Key Concepts

  1. Humanization of the Legal System: Langford emphasizes the personal stories behind legal cases, showcasing the human elements often obscured by legal procedures.
  2. Access to Justice: The book discusses the barriers individuals face in accessing justice, particularly in the context of legal aid cuts and the complexities of the legal system.
  3. Role of the Barrister: Langford provides a detailed account of the multifaceted role of barristers, including their duties as legal advisors, advocates, and sometimes quasi-social workers.
  4. Impact of Legal Decisions: The stories illustrate the profound and lasting effects that legal decisions can have on individuals and their families.
  5. Ethical and Moral Dilemmas: Langford delves into the ethical challenges faced by barristers, including the tension between legal obligations and personal morals.

Chapter Summaries


Sarah Langford introduces her perspective as a barrister, emphasizing that her work involves more than just legal knowledge; it requires empathy and storytelling. She shares her motivation for writing the book: to shed light on the human stories behind legal cases and to demystify the legal process for the general public. Langford also highlights the importance of understanding the broader implications of legal decisions and their impact on society.

Chapter 1: Dominic

The chapter opens with a vivid description of Dominic’s arrest, emphasizing the brutality he faced from the police. Langford details Dominic’s troubled past, marked by early criminal convictions and systemic failures. She discusses the challenges of representing young offenders and the complexities of navigating the youth court system. The chapter culminates in Dominic’s trial for assaulting police officers, where Langford successfully defends him, highlighting the discrepancies in the officers’ testimonies and presenting photographic evidence of Dominic’s injuries.

Chapter 2: Derek

This chapter explores the case of Derek, an elderly man accused of engaging in sexual activity in a public lavatory. Langford portrays Derek as a respectable community member, whose life is upended by the accusation. The chapter delves into the prejudices and moral judgments that often accompany such charges. Langford navigates the delicate balance of defending Derek while addressing the stigma associated with his alleged actions. Ultimately, the case is dismissed due to lack of evidence, but not without significant personal cost to Derek.

Chapter 3: Anna

Anna’s story is one of domestic abuse and the legal battles that ensue. Langford describes Anna’s struggle to escape her abusive husband and secure custody of their children. The chapter highlights the emotional toll of family court proceedings and the challenges faced by victims of domestic violence in proving their cases. Langford’s representation of Anna underscores the importance of legal advocacy in protecting vulnerable individuals and ensuring their voices are heard in court.

Chapter 4: Josie

Josie is a young mother facing charges of neglect and endangerment of her children. The chapter examines the social services system and the often harsh judgments passed on parents struggling with poverty and mental health issues. Langford’s defense focuses on providing context for Josie’s actions, emphasizing her love for her children and the systemic failures that exacerbated her situation. The case concludes with a mixed outcome, reflecting the complexities of child welfare cases.

Chapter 5: Mark

Mark’s case involves a complex fraud trial. Langford describes the intricacies of financial crimes and the challenge of defending a client accused of manipulating financial records for personal gain. The chapter provides insights into the detailed and often tedious nature of fraud cases, as well as the strategies employed in court to unravel complicated financial evidence. Mark’s eventual acquittal underscores the importance of thorough preparation and the ability to present a clear narrative in court.

Chapter 6: Ellie

Ellie, a teenager charged with drug offenses, represents the harsh realities of the criminal justice system for young people. Langford discusses the socio-economic factors that often lead to youth involvement in crime and the limited options available for rehabilitation. The chapter portrays the struggle of balancing legal defense with the hope of steering young clients towards better futures. Despite Ellie’s conviction, Langford remains hopeful about her potential for change.

Chapter 7: Michael

Michael’s story is centered on a high-profile murder case. Langford details the intense media scrutiny and public interest surrounding the trial. The chapter explores the ethical dilemmas faced by defense barristers in cases involving serious crimes and the importance of maintaining professional integrity. Michael’s conviction highlights the weight of responsibility borne by legal professionals in ensuring a fair trial.

Chapter 8: Rachel

Rachel, a single mother, faces eviction due to rent arrears. Langford discusses the intersection of housing law and social justice, emphasizing the precariousness of housing for vulnerable populations. The chapter highlights the systemic issues that contribute to homelessness and the role of legal aid in providing crucial support. Rachel’s case is a poignant reminder of the broader social implications of legal decisions.

Chapter 9: Simon

Simon’s chapter deals with a contentious divorce and custody battle. Langford navigates the emotional complexities of family law, portraying the toll of prolonged legal disputes on all parties involved. The chapter underscores the importance of mediation and the need for a more compassionate approach to family law. Simon’s case is ultimately resolved through a negotiated settlement, reflecting the potential for alternative dispute resolution methods.

Chapter 10: James

James, a former soldier facing criminal charges, represents the difficulties of transitioning from military to civilian life. Langford discusses the legal and psychological challenges faced by veterans, including PTSD and substance abuse. The chapter highlights the need for specialized support systems for ex-service members within the legal framework. James’ case ends with a rehabilitative sentence, emphasizing the potential for legal interventions to support recovery and reintegration.

Chapter 11: Lily

The final chapter focuses on Lily, a young woman involved in a human trafficking case. Langford delves into the complexities of such cases, including issues of consent, coercion, and victimhood. The chapter underscores the importance of understanding the broader context of exploitation and the need for comprehensive legal and social support for survivors. Lily’s case is a powerful conclusion to the book, illustrating the profound impact of the legal system on individual lives.

Key Quotes and Their Significance

  1. “For behind the clever arguments spun from the pages of a law book there is always a human tale.”
  • Significance: This quote encapsulates the central theme of Langford’s book, emphasizing the human stories behind legal cases. It underscores her belief that understanding these personal narratives is crucial for comprehending the full impact of the law. It also highlights the role of barristers as storytellers who must translate complex legal principles into relatable human experiences.
  1. “These stories may not make headlines, but they will change the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary ways.”
  • Significance: Langford draws attention to the often-overlooked cases that profoundly affect individuals’ lives. This quote reflects the book’s focus on everyday legal battles and their significant personal consequences, advocating for a more nuanced understanding of justice and its implementation.
  1. “I began to wonder whether I was really so different from the people I represented, or whether, but for a twist of fate, their stories could have been mine.”
  • Significance: This reflection highlights the empathy Langford develops for her clients and the shared humanity she perceives between herself and those she defends. It challenges the notion of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ in the legal system, promoting a more compassionate and inclusive perspective.
  1. “This is not a book of anecdotes; it is a book of people.”
  • Significance: Langford emphasizes that her book aims to convey real human experiences rather than mere legal curiosities. This quote reinforces the book’s intent to humanize the legal process and provide deeper insights into the lives affected by it.
  1. “Every family law chapter is the result of blending several different cases together and presenting it as one when it is really a mash of many.”
  • Significance: This quote reveals Langford’s method of amalgamating multiple real-life cases to protect anonymity while illustrating common issues in family law. It highlights the recurring themes and systemic issues within the legal system, providing a broader understanding of these challenges.

Significance & Impact

Critical Reflections

“In Your Defence” provides a rare and insightful look into the British legal system from the perspective of a practicing barrister. Langford’s reflections on her experiences challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions about the legal profession and those who find themselves entangled in legal battles. The book critically examines the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by legal professionals, the impact of legal decisions on individuals, and the broader societal implications of these decisions.

Broader Implications

  1. Humanization of Legal Processes: By focusing on the personal stories behind legal cases, Langford humanizes the often-impersonal legal system. This approach encourages readers to see beyond legal jargon and procedures, understanding the profound human impact of legal decisions.
  2. Access to Justice: The book highlights significant barriers to accessing justice, particularly for vulnerable populations. Langford’s accounts underscore the importance of legal aid and the devastating effects of its reduction. The stories advocate for a more equitable legal system that provides adequate support and representation for all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic status.
  3. Role of Legal Professionals: Langford’s narrative underscores the multifaceted role of barristers, who must often serve as counselors, social workers, and advocates. This broader understanding of the barrister’s role highlights the emotional and psychological demands of the profession, as well as the importance of empathy and ethical judgment in legal practice.
  4. Systemic Issues in Law: The book sheds light on systemic issues within the legal system, such as the criminalization of youth, the challenges faced by victims of domestic violence, and the stigmatization of certain offenses. By presenting these issues through personal stories, Langford calls for systemic reforms and a more compassionate approach to justice.
  5. Public Perception of Law: “In Your Defence” also aims to demystify the legal system for the general public, providing an accessible yet detailed account of how the law works and its impact on everyday lives. This transparency is crucial for fostering public trust and understanding of the legal system.


Sarah Langford’s “In Your Defence: Stories of Life and Law” is a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of the British legal system through the eyes of a barrister. By weaving together personal narratives with legal analysis, Langford provides a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of the individuals behind legal cases and the broader implications of legal decisions. The book serves as a call to humanize the law, advocate for greater access to justice, and recognize the profound impact of the legal system on society.

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