Author Archives: David Langwallner

David Langwallner

This afternoon.

All rise.


Overruled. Bailiff, restrain that man.

David Langwallner writes:

‘It has been a great privilege to write for Broadsheet for the last number of years and the site has shown great faith in me and published some of my pieces which were liked very much and are of my more popular works, but which other outlets I write for would not publish.

That is because the Overton Window has shifted to negate criticism and the press either internally censors or corporately censors or now, with the proposed bill in Ireland of criminalising offence, has censorship imposed upon it.

It is unpopular views that most need airing and, although I do not believe covid was a conspiracy, the suppression of human rights alongside a hyped-up emergency and the shifting of assets to a plutocratic and pharmaceutical elite, were clear for all to see.

Broadsheet‘s defence of the underdog is remarkable and the defence of a kind of old world civic decency that did exist in Ireland and to some limited extent still does, Their hatred of official corruption and the persecution and prosecution of the innocent was also very much to the fore.

And Official Ireland is beneath contempt.

We can agree to disagree about other issues. what is certain is that a great forum for public discussion along with others are being closed and these are worrying dark times. The dying of the light of public discourse.

Au revoir not au bientot.

Previously: David Langwallner on Broadsheet.

Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

From top: Leakey’s second hand bookshop. Inverness, Scotland; David Langwallner

‘Embarrassed by his emotional reverie, the D.H.C. shifts attention by expressing his disappointment in Bernard’s odd behaviour outside work and threatens to exile him to Iceland.’

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

A bit like a latter-day Dr. Johnson, but not to the Outer Hebrides, I took a recent break in the highlands of Scotland. The trip for those interested in a travelogue covered some but not all of Johnson’s itinerary: Inverness, Fort William, Skye and, with some difficulty, a lesser-known island called Jura.

Regrettably, I did not get to see Iona where the monks as in Ireland and such islands as Skellig kept the tradition of learning and lore alive through the Middle Ages. But Johnson did not see much learning or preservation of culture left when he visited.

The talk of the Highlands in every town but particularly in Mallaig and Skye was of internal migration. Mass migration to the north since Covid times. Increasing. A conventional explanation is that this is just a yuppie retirement policy, often done historically, but this is different. The complexity of reasons includes of course the pursuit of the good life and rustic living, but many also are driven by fear of what may and will happen in urban conurbations quite soon. Economic destruction. Already started.

In one of the great bookstores, I have ever seen, Leakey’s (and I have promised the owner sight of this) in Inverness, I bought a lot of books as is my want, and in Mallaig also. So, a form of cultural preservation is taking place in these new dark Middle Ages. Dr. Johnson would approve.

In Leakey’s, someone had offloaded a complete set of Panther first editions of Phillip K Dick. Lurid covers, quite popular many years ago In Dublin, and cheap. And Dick is back in fashion. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep aka Blade Runner is a dark predictor of what now in reality may happen to many urban spaces, hence the other reason for the migration to the north. Social distancing can certainly be preserved in Skye where hotels and bars are wide apart and tourism aside there is much possibility of isolation or self-isolation.

The people of Skye are looking at all of this as a business opportunity but also wondering whether they should not sell just rent. They have not been as much affected by the plague and the hallmarks of self-sufficiency and sustainable living are everywhere. Piles of chopped wood as in Austria. Solar power on hills. The two central restaurants in Mallaig boast the catch of the day. Fresh fish. Living on the land. Or by the sea.

On the journey to Fort William a taxi driver informed me that there are many people who live in the woods. Of course, woodcutters were one of the safe occupations unaffected by plagues historically or the devastation of the Middle Ages. And it is a reversion to a form of corporate feudalism in urban spaces that is dictating the run for nature. The run for cover.

The island of Jura is very desolate indeed and it takes a huge effort to see a spacious cottage. The residence of one Mr George Orwell where he wrote 1984. It is oddly enough difficult to find. The distance and the isolation may have created the clarity of perception.

The writers of science fiction and predictive dystopia are an undercurrent of our fraught times. Dick as well as predicting the desolation of urban spaces also saw other awful features of our time. Thus, Minority Report the short story and film anticipates pre-crime which, with ever draconian emergency legislation, is where we are heading.

Orwell saw it coming as he did other awful features of our time best represented in his short stories such as how the poor die or his celebration of language and his understanding of the distortion of same by propaganda. Two plus two equals five is like a totemic comment on our age of disinformation and distortion.

The character Bernard, foregrounding this piece, wanted to escape the Brave New World of Huxley’s dystopia by migrating to Iceland. And it is more a Huxleyite consumerist and controlled dystopia that is upon us. Bernhard, despite the chastisement of his superiors, was right to want to go to Iceland and the mass migration to Mallaig and Skye speaks volumes of our turbulent times.

At least internet migration may be possible for a while, but if you are on a boat to the UK well then Rwanda is the solution du jour. Social ghettoisation beckons for those without resources or perception of what is likely to happen.

One can thus quite understand the internal migration and resettlement to the north. Though Dr Johnson deplored it at one level complaining that:

“Some method to stop this epidemic desire of wandering, which spreads its contagion from valley to valley, ought to be sought with great diligence”.

Dr Johnson also of course famously said he who is tired of London is tired of life. Well, there is some truth in that, but one cannot criticise many people for wanting to stay safe if they can. Or for taking preventive measures for self-protection or let us use a more apt word, survival.

Meanwhile, back in London (Kent to be exact), I see HG Wells, the other great predictor of the shape of things to come, has a little plaque outside Eardley Road, where a Nightingale Crown Court heard most compassionately a hearing involving a client of mine yesterday.

At the very end of the high street in Sevenoaks is where The Beatles shot the videos for their greatest-ever single, the double a-side Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane (both should have appeared on their best album, incidentally, I see celebrating its birthday today).

They are still disputing where the tree in the Strawberry Fields video is . But to quote:

‘Living is easy with eyes closed
/ Misunderstanding all you see.’

And the booksellers of Mallaig and Skye say ‘aye’. Do you think they might know something?

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

Pic: Leakey’s

From top: A protest outside the US Supreme Court, Washington DC last night following the leak of a draft opinion by the court overturning Roe Vs Wade, which enshrined the right to an abortion in the American constitution since 1973; David Langwallner

”I fear for the future, ‘The signs are evident and very ominous, and a chill wind blow.”

US Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, Planned Parenthood v Casey (1995)

I shall try to be balanced and, in the light of the Promethean extremism that is likely to occur, calm the waters, but not bathe perhaps in a spiritual conversion! I am not come to Jesus. I will go out not so.

Blackmun, who wrote Roe, was, evident in Bob Woodward’s book about The Supreme Court The Brethren, influenced and delegated to write the majority opinion by the arch liberals Douglas and Brennan, who would not have command the same authority or support. They clearly bullied him, particularly the tyrannical atheist Bill Douglas. Not all liberals are good people.

It caused an everyman, decent, but not stellar, lawyer a great deal of trauma but became his legacy. In the above quote, during the last seismic attempt to get Roe overturned, and aged over 90, he both approbated and reprobated. He assented to the Republican Sandra Day O’ Connor‘s upholding of the kernel of Roe, but dissented on the curtailment and restrictions she imposed.

In effect she was right. The three-trimester analysis in Blackmun’s opinion meant that abortion could be permitted until six months and the medical science indicated a child could survive outside the womb from about five months. Possibly earlier. The trimester analysis was not medically sound and thus regulations could be imposed restricting abortion for up to the six month period.

This led to a flurry of retractions and subsequent litigation concerning notifications, consent issues and also led to the accentuation of the abortion wars,, the murder of abortion doctors and the death penalty for one who committed the act. The incongruity obvious to all: a pro-lifer sentenced to death.

For many Republicans are all in favour of the death penalty, but zealously anti-abortion and, inconsistently, many Democrats are all in favour of abortion, often in an unregulated way, but zealously opposed to the death penalty.

The appointment by Trump is blamed for this of various judges culminating in Amy Coney Barrett, the perfect handmaiden of the right and not the turncoat that Sandra Day became, and it has worked. Roe is gone.

Now what this all means is that the liberal, academic, political and legal agenda has lost the argument and that the Bible Belt has won. Polite academic debate aside, it is game over and the interpretation of texts will now be literal and historical.

This is a crisis of federalism versus state rights. In fact, it is all the hallmarks of a state federal crisis unprecedented since the desegregation of the schools. also by the Supreme Court in 1954 or the Civil War. And Biden is neither Abraham Lincoln nor FDR, who threatened to stack the court if they did not pass his New Deal legislation. When they did it became known by the wags as ‘The switch in time which saved nine.

Though I have not yet had sight of Alito’s opinion I am sure from reading the reportage he has a point. As distinguished a scholar as Alexander Bickel argued Roe was overly expansionist investing excessive power in the judiciary. It was unprecedented and turned the judiciary into legislators or philosopher monarchs.

In Ireland A version of the privacy right was recognised in McGee v. Attorney General [1974] IR 284, when most of the Supreme Court identified a right to marital privacy.

The Court also held that that right was being unjustly infringed by acts, which prevented the plaintiff from importing contraceptives. The Court was impressed by the “universal” nature of the right to privacy – a right which was subject only to rare exceptions.

It is worth noting that, in the United States, a similar case eventually led to the legalisation of abortion. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) 381 US 479, the United States Supreme Court or rather Bill Douglas held that the right to privacy rendered invalid a law denying married people access to contraceptives. This paved the way for Roe.

Restrictions on privacy were in fact recognised in Ireland (Norris v. Attorney General [1984] IR 36.) Where The plaintiff argued that such a right existed, and that it was breached by the operation of several pre-1937 provisions whose sections criminalised homosexual acts between males, regardless of age or consent

O’Higgins CJ appeared to accept that a general right to privacy did indeed exist. However, the Chief Justice was also of the view that a right to privacy did not exclude the State from “the field of private morality”; rather, the State had a keen interest in the moral well-being of society and could “discourage conduct which is morally wrong and harmful to a way of life and to values which the State wishes to protect”.

The majority was also concerned by public health issues (specifically sexually transmitted diseases), and the fact that homosexuality could be regarded as an attack on the institution of marriage. The “right to be let alone” (a phrase coined in the United States) could not override the common good as protected by the legislative provisions. The judge opined.

Strong dissents were delivered by McCarthy and Henchy JJ. Neither judge could find good reason for the State to intervene in the plaintiff’s private life in the manner permitted under the provisions. In their view, the State had failed to discharge the onus of showing that the maintenance of public order and morality outweighed the plaintiff’s right to privacy – a right that was recognised by both judges. Per Henchy J, at p 71.:

There are many other aspects of the right…. [which] would all appear to fall within a secluded area of activity or non-activity, which may be claimed, as necessary for the expression of an individual personality, meriting recognition in cases, which do not endanger considerations such as State security, public order or morality, or other essential components of the common good.

A subsequent challenge to the legislation, also based on the right to privacy, succeeded in the European Court of Human Rights (Norris v. Ireland (1989) 13 EHRR 186).

It might also be noted that the United States Supreme Court, having initially rejected any right to privacy that could protect the right to engage in sodomy (later accepted that the right to privacy had been violated by a Texan law allowing for the prosecution and conviction of a man who had been having consensual sex with another man in the privacy of his home.

So, although a ‘living instrument’ approach to the constitution should deal with gay rights or contraception, abortion was a bridge too far. Not just in terms of judicial precedent but judicial arrogance and imperialism.

Death Penalty aside the American Supreme Court is now concisely pro-life, and the Overton window has shifted.

The view of the United States Supreme Court in Washington v. Glucksberg 521 US 702 (1997) is illustrative of this point. In that case, Glucksberg (a doctor) and others (including three terminally ill patients) challenged Washington State’s ban on assisted suicide.

The Supreme Court examined the many reasons for the ban, which included the protection of patients from medical malpractice and the ending of lives due to financial or psychological problems. The practice was traditionally frowned upon and was still banned in most States.

Furthermore, liberty interests which were not “deeply rooted in the nation’s history” did not qualify for protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court concluded that “the asserted ‘right’ to assistance in committing suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the due process clause”.

The Court had been impressed by the rational connection between the ban on assisted suicide and the interests of the State. These included the State’s “unqualified interest in the preservation of human life”, which was reflected in all homicide laws. Furthermore, suicide was a public health issue which particularly affected vulnerable persons and groups.

The State had an interest in protecting vulnerable groups (including the poor, the elderly, the terminally ill and the disabled) from abuse, neglect, and mistakes; the legalisation of assisted suicide might lead such people to take that option to spare their families a financial burden.

The State could legitimately attempt to preserve such people from coercion and “societal indifference”. Furthermore, the State also had an interest in preserving medical ethics and the integrity of the medical profession. Finally, there was a legitimate fear that the permission of assisted suicide could eventually lead to voluntary, and even involuntary, euthanasia.

Yet Ireland has legislated for abortion and is attempting to do the same for euthanasia. Many American states will now ban same. Many restrictively regulate. Euthanasia is only available in few states.

The relevance for Ireland is that in an odd sort of way, the Americans are departing from the great liberal consensus and, death penalty aside, having a debate at one level about life termination issues. We should be attuned to this, and it does not of necessity make us progressive that we have chosen a different path.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner


Earlier: The Opinion Of The Court


From top: Boris Becker arrived for his sentencing hearing with his partner Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro; David Langwallner

“They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown
.The beauty parlour is filled with sailors, the circus is in town.”

Bob Dylan, Desolation Row.

Today, a bit like Rumpole with the Timsons, I was in Court 10 at the Crown Court in Southwark, south east London with an old client, who is doing his very best to keep food on my table. With the barrister’s no return policy in full swing (no return work from other chambers can be accepted), he had my full, undivided attention.

As I took a gentle stroll from Waterloo station to Southwark via Calder books and the oddly placed designer bookstore just outside the court, where I purchased Hurricane Season (in the very pretty and designed chic Fitzcarraldo editions), I turned the corner to see a different form of hurricane, the paparazzi.

Now the paparazzi are not uncommon outside Southwark and occasionally my photograph has been taken. But this was like the scene of the miracle or fake miracle in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, this was a rugby scrum awaiting the arrival of, well, a fallen angel.

For Mr Boris Becker was in court 1 at Midday and they were waiting from early in the morning for High Noon.

Court 1 is right beside the robing room and outside it was another scrum. There was much sympathy among the legal hacks. me included. in Southwark. Blackstone’s and Archibald were consulted and the net question in terms of the sentencing guidelines was 5-7 years, given the amount of money dodged and parked away.

He should have been less of an anglophone, said one. The amounts were too significant, the consensus was. The thought occurred; had he come to live in Ireland, given that many of our bankers, politicians and indeed barristers have never been sanctioned for their obvious criminality, one of our corporate law firms could have advised him to store away the assets more efficiently. Such a missed opportunity.

A consensus was given to the amount he has done for Britain, and it is true, he has done enough for a ‘bender’ (suspended sentence) or even a conditional discharge, but the sentencing judges’ hands are tied somewhat. Others for equivalent fences would complain.

In an odd sort of way, one remarked, he should be made Commander of the Empire. One said very kindly and true that he is the only German in 30 years who has done anything for Britain, and he is a cherished but fallen idol. No one is above the law. Still, I would if if could have given him a ‘bender’.

Now, Mr. Becker is 54 and looked every bit of it outside Court 1, not that distant in age terms from me and I remember the dashing 17-year-old’s first Wimbledon victory, the other victories and, perhaps even more memorably, the marathon defeats.

He was one of the great grass court players, though not I think as great an all-rounder as others of that era or close to it. Mr. McEnroe comes to mind and the legendary superhuman endurance of Mr. Connors who shared Mr. Becker’s never say die spirit.

After the sport is over the question is what to do. Relive past glories? Many do. Well, he did become a superb commentator and an anti-racists spokesperson of sorts but a failed marriage, a string of relationships and excessive living brought him Court 1.  Where did all go wrong, as the waiter asked of George Best.

The cult of desecrating celebrities is an awful feature of our age, and all the hacks were disapproving. The level of hatred the assembled barrister’s multitude had for the actions of the paparazzi was noticeable. Privately some of them intimated huge sympathy. But the pictures have been taken of the hanging and Mr Becker is going to Desolation Row.

My client had to phone a friend to tell them who Boris Becker was, a very significant generational observation and indirect reflection on the transience of fame and indeed life. I had hoped the sentence would not be too severe.

But Southwark was not close of business, another old client was due to be sentenced in Kent.
I walked out the door of the court to the station and past the clink museum once a prison where Mr. Becker is probably now heading. Thus, I left the circus just before high noon and Mr Becker to his fate.

Update: I have just heard he has been jailed for two and a half years.

In a charity shop in Maidstone, I spot a history of Wimbledon.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

From top: An extract from The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill; David Langwallner

This is follow-up to my post on the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and prompted by a Broadsheet contributor, who noted that, as well as the right to offend being criminalised, the authority of the state or undermining the same is now also potentially subject to penal sanction. a further restriction on speech. It is Section 46 J and sneaks in at the end. A sinister afterthought deliberately masked?

Now the question of undermining the authority of the state is a question that feeds into whether and to what extent that authority should be respected.

Frédéric Gros in a recent essay on civil disobedience pointed out the dangers of internalised compliance and one Broadsheet commentator suggested free speech had gone too far to much dismay and rightly so by fellow commentators.

The crucial question is, do the gatekeepers or custodians of the system uphold authority or are they simply authoritarian and despotic? Who judges the judges? Is it a mafiosa state run by nods, shrugs and whispers?

When there is a state of siege and what is called a crisis of legitimation of the state then the suppression of criticism is the undermining of democracy by those who do not believe in democracy in the first place. Is that where we are now?

Should we undermine their authority? Oh, yes.

Our police force should be disbanded. Their authority is a grave question. They have run their training facility in Templemore as a money laundering exercise. They have actively framed people not least for child sex abuse even their own whistle-blower Garda McCabe. They falsified over a million breathalyser tests. They have resorted to high crimes and cover up and paper up their infamy.

So does it undermine the authority of the state to say they are, in terms of higher management and the Heavy Gang and those in Harcourt Street, a quasi psychotic bandit organisation?

The state, in league with multinational corporations and law firms, have created de facto a shadow state where the laws are drafted in favour of vulture and hedge funds dispossessing people and giving freehold entitlements on all new properties on a sale and leaseback arrangement to prevent security of tenure of future Irish generations.

Does that statement undermine the authority of the state?

NAMA, the national association for misery and austerity has been used in a fraudulent way to park or thieve billions.

Does that statement undermine the authority of the state?

The state has designates or agents and those are our political class. Now that intersects with the right to ridicule and offence but if one said that the emperor had no clothes and were paid by their corporate paymasters would that undermine the authority of the state?

If one said that the judiciary had not upheld the constitution properly and certainly in due process terms for the last 20 years, would that scandalise the judiciary?

If one said that state sponsored policy of coerced vaccinations for all including children was a dangerous vista of a culture run by the state and its emanation, would that undermine authority? When authority negates freedom of choice? Of course it would, but authority should only be obeyed when it has authority.

Finally, I said in the last piece that it is not just Sinn Féin who has blood on its hands. The state does as do the establishment families of Dublin. Might saying that help undermine their authority?


David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

Previously: Ridicule Is Nothing To be Scared Of

From top: The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will outlaw content that causes offence; David Langwallner

The late great Ronald Dworkin taught me Jurisprudence and towards the end of his illustrious career, and in response to the Danish Cartoon incident, wrote a nuanced defence of the right to offend, saying:

“Ridicule is a distinct kind of expression: its substance cannot be repackaged in a less offensive rhetorical form without expressing something very different from what was intended. That is why cartoons and other forms of ridicule have for centuries, even when illegal, been among the most important weapons of both noble and wicked political movements.

“So, in a democracy no one, however powerful or important, can have a right not to be insulted or offended.”

Christoper Hitchens and others, such as the English judge Stephan Sedley, have remarked that the freedom to speak inoffensively is a freedom not worth having.

The Irish Government, through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022, is purporting, in contradiction to the sentiments and arguments of Dworkin and others, to criminalise causing offence as well as harm.

It is Section 46JA of the bill which is the exact provision which criminalises causing harm or offence as judged reasonably. But by whom? A politically-appointed commission, of course. Vox populism. The mob. Mr. Varadkar and his oft expressed fear of unregulated journalism. Those who tell the truth about him and those he cannot influence not to do so. Well, now to be regulated by him and his cohorts. What a vista? Also offence to whom. The right-thinking members of the community? Us not them.

In fact, the act is contrary to the jurisprudence of the European Court Of Human Rights (ECHR) by which we are bound.

Now not everything is permitted, Holocaust denial or racist speech for example, but the parameters are wide or were. And, in a number of cases, such as Jersild  Vs Denmark and Lingens Vs Austria, the court has indicated speech encompasses the right to outrage and shock and such are the hallmarks of tolerance and broadmindedness.

Under the interpretative obligation implementing the ECHR in Ireland, the state is obliged as far as possible to follow that jurisprudence, but, crucially, as interpreted by domestic Irish courts, this is subject to existing constitutional protection which on speech are much more limited.

So, clearly the mandarin gambit is to criminalise domestically, seek to scupper or wait in the never never as the ECHR finds a breach many years later, at which stage it will be too late, and then water it down in terms of existing constitutional entitlements. We protect enough. The act is constitutional. Our good old boys can be relied on to say so.

It is deeply sinister and redolent of other historic Fine Gael legislation on controlling broadcasts from deemed subversive organisations. But who are the subversives? It is not just Sinn Féin historically that has blood on its hands.

The bill if enacted is a further escalation to a controlled form of corporate Stalinism. The suppression of dissidence. The dying of the light.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

Previously: Simon McGarr: Unflattering Portraits

From top: Alec Guinness; David Langwallner

“The circus world no longer exists. The real clowns have all disappeared. The circus no longer has any meaning in today’s society.”

Federico Fellini’s I clowns (1970)

I have taken my daughter Lara to the circus several times. Not the circus of the Four Courts, but the visiting itinerant players in Clontarf. A nether land. Located between the interstices of Clontarf and Fairview. She was frightened by the Clowns though. No one should be. Clowns are good people largely. And her daddy likes them.

I have written for Broadsheet on how advocacy is a part of the dark arts of irrational persuasion not unlike magic or sorcery and have written for Cassandra Voices, Village and The English Speaking Union contributions on the essential aspects and skills required of an advocate and also how it behoves advocates both as a profession and in an extracurricular sense to contribute to the importance of speech and public debate. For free. Itinerant players and clowns. Mugs in professional contribution.

Advocacy trains an individual in seeing the wood from the trees and focusing on fact and conversely fiction in our post-truth universe and an advocate should be a public advocate and understand vocational responsibility. That is vital. Few do.

But there is one salient theme I have left unaddressed and I do so finally in a no-stone-left-unturned kind of way and, in a way, which troubles me at one level and invigorates me at another as well as something that is crucial to realise. The role of clowns, actors and players.

Advocacy is at one level acting and performance. The muck and greasepaint. Advocates have an element of the clown about them. Why do it otherwise? The rewards are less than you might think.

Though not if you are a tax lawyer. Its sure beats working, to transpose a quote from another actor Robert Mitchum. And the best at it do not work much. Or rather work with more speed and less haste. Only fools and horses work. Less is often more.

This final comment is also prompted by three no less of the Broadsheet ultra-critics; one who pointed out how the skill set can be used, in a strictly non-Kantian ethical sense, to represent anyone. For good and for bad.

And one who pointedly reprimanded me for representing Mr. John Gilligan, forgetting that no brief fee was accepted and constitutional rights were at stake. But how would the layman know? One also suggested the days of the debate chamber are over. Thus, the days of clowns are over and why nefarious lobby groups are thriving. Scene shifters and shapers to stop the clowns performing. Or to stop the truth getting out. Or to bankrupt the clowns and the circus. A salient theme of Bergman’s early masterpiece Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Of course, there is a strict code of ethics imposed upon barristers, but it is legal ethics, as one of the commentators is correct about.  And to deal with that old chestnut – what do you do if a client tells you he is guilty? – well then you cannot raise the affirmative evidence, merely challenge the prosecution evidence.

So, it is a different brand of ethics or not true ethics to accept the veracity of the commentator’s remarks. But part of the pursuit of results and the dark arts are theatrics, which are also part of the advocate’s job. They are acting and performance and being a clown. And they can accomplish a lot. Before a jury or for that matter a tribunal.

Advocacy thus is a performance and great advocates are born not made. And that is a truism. Although you can teach advocates to be very good and in the traditional vernacular, competent, highly competent et al, you cannot teach great advocacy that is innate and it is a performance art. It might be nature/nurture but it a skill set that is unquantifiable and intersects with performance.

The late great Alec Guinness, the most diverse and eclectic of the great English acting lords, straddling equally and with equal acumen the cinema when he accepted the life-time  Oscar, thus made one of the most complete statements about acting which applies equally to advocacy.

“You know, when I was a drama student forty-seven years ago, I think, there used to be a formidable lady who came to take classes of what she called “film technique.” And she arrived with a large wooden frame about four-foot square which she placed in front of our faces saying it was a close-up. And then she barked at us: Show fear, anger, joy, despair. And I quickly learned how to get maybe a laugh or two out of my fellow students. And then it dawned on me that, if I was seriously going to have a career in movies, the wisest thing was to do absolutely nothing at all. And that is more or less what I’ve done since then. I feel very fraudulent taking this, but not letting any expression pass over my face.”

The best performer is the neutral performance. Rhetoric – yes, but with carefully-marshalled stony-faced facts. You may be trembling inside but you must show the same emotion. Not a poker face as such but an agreeable expression of equanimity.

Zen. Or silence. stillness. Lessness. Service with a smile. A cheeky assassin grins. Or a clown’s expression? Humour and insouciance.

Now Guinness was not trained as a lawyer, but surprisingly many great performers were and many great actors could and perhaps should have been lawyers or, in fact, seem to be lawyers in the popular consciousness.I

My personal favourite and he really should have been a lawyer is Spencer Tracey as the legendary trial lawyer Clarence Darrow in Inherit the Wind (1960). You could transplant him from that film and put him in any courtroom. Anywhere. And he was president of the debate union at college. So, a budding prospective lawyer.

But acting or clownishness is only one form of performance for advocates many singers and noticeably opera singers were trained as lawyers. Andre Bocelli for one.

Stillness and quietude as performance. For advocacy is not just about talking it is about listening. And watching. The watching briefs. The unsaid and that is also acting. Non communication. lll seen. Ill Heard. Ill said. To misquote the master of lessness.

The troubling question for advocacy and the art of communication is what is real and what is acting. It is a crucial question as many actors are politicians and corporate leaders and sell soap as do the media

And the circus moves on as in life.

But the clowns are good, Lara. As long as they know when they are being manipulated, exploited or discarded.

Thus, send them in.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner


From top: Aleister Crowley; David Langwallner

‘Witchcraft was hung in history
But history and I
Find all the witchcraft we need’

Emily Dickinson,

“People think I can sprinkle some magic dust on their cases – but some cases are not winnable. I spend much of my time saying, “Stop, you’ll lose.” Then I hear the words, “This is a matter of principle.”

Lord Pannick. Hamlyn Lectures on Advocacy

I write this for Broadsheet as a companion piece to those contributions on advocacy and the importance of public debate provided inter alia to Cassandra Voices and The English-Speaking Union.

I am singularly influenced by the Hamlyn lectures of Lord Pannick. which I have recently digested and which, as well as trotting over the usual ground rules of not fabricating or misleading questions and the importance of circumspection, addresses the questions of magic, and a crucial realisation, which Americans often fail to understand, that advocacy is magic, sorcery and voodoo and is a nonlinear art.

That is a serious cause and reason for legitimate doubt and self-reflection. Doing what you do. But for what purposes and with what effects? Special effects? And it involves an investigation of the ethics and morality of magic which intersect, in my view, with the ethics of advocacy.

Other things also prompted this. A client of mine has asked me to do something as she was told by a medium that a man called David would be of assistance. Well, a very irrational way to get a brief. The Supernatural. Intuition.

Further, the man from Broadsheet is extremely interested in the anatomy relevant to our present age of human evil and has frequently referenced Aleister Crowley as an exemplar and presager of our awful Satanic times. Well, that is also a belief in paganism, diabolism and magic of which advocacy is part of. So, there is a fine line between aspects of advocacy and human evil. A very fine line.

Objections to Crowley as a person might be captured in this extract from his Hymn to Pan:

I am gold, I am God, 
Flesh to thy bone, flower to thy rod.
With hoofs of steel I race on the rocks
Through solstice stubborn to equinox.
And I rave; and I rape, and I rip, and I rend
Everlasting, world without end,

So, one can understand resistance to another dark art advocacy. Though, in the interests of balance, when people associate witchcraft, magic, or sorcery exclusively with evil, I am also reminded of how deeply evocative the phrase Papal Bull is. And Christianity has persecuted witches and developed its own primitive sorcery.

The persecution of witches was initiated primarily by Hopkins, Witchfinder General, in The UK, who applied torture techniques such as water-boarding,  also evident in the inquisition and in our day and age to induce a confession.

Stacy Schiff’s book, The Witches (2015) about The Salem Witch Hunt demonstrates how, in Freudian terms, a witchunt is a conversion disorder, a transformation or a sublimation, which causes the hysteria of persecution and prosecution and, of course as the book makes clear, this hysteria is easily accomplished, often by hysterical prosecutors or by illicit techniques and not just physical torture, but psychological torture or cognitive bias. And the confusion of God and guilt. Confess to your sins.

In this respect, one chapter of the man who was for many years the Prosecutor of the Southern district of New York is called God Forbid and has nefarious lines like: ‘God forbid that trash talking misanthrope kill someone.’ The moral puritanism and cleanliness are appalling and the tone decidedly off.,

And the vulnerable can be played on. and not just by advocates. Children, as Schiff’s book makes clear, can be led to believe that a day worker slaughtered rabbits. False allegations are also linked to hysterical parents or authority figures.  Then and now. Their brains turned to mush by persistent questioning, But not just children. the inappropriate or vulnerable adults in the room. The prey?

Salem has plagued American society and consciousness ever since. The modern variants are the communist persecutions both in the 1920s and 1950s McCarthyite-era. The later political witching led to Arthur Miller writing the famous play The Crucible (1953) using Salem as a historical metaphor for what happened then. Of course, Miller himself was targeted by that political witch-hunt, as were many communist sympathisers or indeed even those with a slight leftist tinge.

Schiff’s book also demonstrates though how a conventional puritanical or fundamentalist or orthodox thought leads to a hatred of difference and sorcery that starts the problem. The cascade. The neurosis. The witch-hunt. The hatred of difference and exceptionalism and indeed nuance and Satanism, or perceived Satanism, is also equated by narrow-minded people with subversion and dissidence and it is the provenance and bailiwick of the ignorant and the superstitious. Or those with interests and axes to grind.

A witch, or a warlock  is conventionally assumed in all instances as someone in league with the Devil and not as they are, either magical or a sorcerer. As an advocate,  you can be a sorcerer with language and appeal to often irrational motivations. But it does not mean you are the devil incarnate. The conventional definition of a Warlock is an oath breaker, and no true advocate misleads, as Lord Pannick intimates, but many do.

There are gradations of advocacy as in Harry Potter and magic. Sorcery is low grade. Magic a higher form. Not for nothing is the inner cabal of the bar and other cabals known as Magic Circle. Sorcery is merely results-driven. There is no consultation of principle. It has often been termed a crime against God and humanity.

That is the opposite of true advocacy, as Pannick makes clear, though he does not like to lose. Nor do I. for losing in the present universe has awful and disproportionate consequences. There must be restraints and grace in defeat.

But to deny the pagan spirit to deny the magic is also to deny the essence of advocacy. To fail to understand that it is a dark art and to be reflective of same is to deny the essence of it.

Turning the lens on myself, I have represented far from popular people, Mr. John Gillgan, for instance, where I was alternately vilified and sainted for my representation, reflecting a crucial awful feature of our dumbed-down age, to identify an advocate with his client.  But explaining that to vox populis is very difficult.

Should a skill set however exceptional be used to represent certain folks or rather should the demonology of advocacy be constrained in a more prosaic form? But then are you doing your best? Or merely going through the motions?

Points for reflection on the dark art I practice and the moral and ethical ambiguity of this brand of magic.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner


Vienna, Austria in January

This morning/afternoon.

The Austrian government said that it won’t start enforcing a vaccine mandate for most adults in mid-March as it had planned.

Police were to start checking people’s vaccination status with the unjabbed facing fines starting at €600.

Irish/Austrian Human rights lawyer David Langwallner writes:

‘I feared the Austrians or their officialdom had gone mad. That the land of Mozart and Wittgenstein, the epicentre of modern civilisation, had reverted to atavistic, authoritarian tendencies.

‘The decision was against the tide and was bonkers and unenforceable. No national emergency has been declared, thus the Austrian Constitutional Court would have to assess this in terms of a derogation non-applied for in Article 4 and Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights convention.

‘Many citizens, particularly in southern or western Austria, wish to be non-vaccinated. Since there is or was an emergency, the liberty right was particularly obvious and those who refused to pay fines could have made a challenge. The Austrian Constitutional Court would have intervened and there is nothing like a Hapsburgian judge.

‘The problem is not whether you choose or not to be vaccinated, boosted, double vaccinated or not. The problem is one of a slippery slope to persecute those who exercise a choice and to impose control.

‘If the science were clear,  that endleess futuristic drugs would, for example, control Omicron, then public health considerations, in terms of legal doctrines such as proportionality would be apt, but there is no clear evidence of same.

‘Civility has won.’

Austria suspends vaccine mandate before enforcement starts (ABC)


From top: Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral (left) dwarfing the city’s newer Catholic cathedral; David Langwallner

At this stage I am privileged enough to have seen most of the great cathedrals of the world and, amid the case I recently finished in Manchester, saw the two great cathedrals of Liverpool, the Protestant cathedral with its neo-gothic or faux-gothic interior and the much more modern Catholic cathedral a stroll down the road, aptly called Hope Street – with its Brutalist, sacred space, where you are cylindrically surrounded. Tasteful modernity?

In nearby York is York Minster, also one of the great cathedrals, which I also visited, with its famous and deeply affecting stained glass windows. Though all built at great expense, the labour of others. The serf labour that also built the pyramids.

The Ridley Scott film Kingdoms of Heaven (2005) is a historical piece dealing with the Crusades and their conflict with the Islamic king Saladin. The Crusades were, of course. a series of historic exercises to export Christianity to the infidel or should that be in effect an exercise in colonisation, greed, and barbarism. And of course, crusade money also funded the cathedrals of Europe.

Liverpool, like Belfast is a divided city on religious lines and a working-class city with much urban degeneration, but also much beauty and not just the cathedrals. Or rather there are other cathedrals, cathedrals of men.

In the phalanx of museums at the Mersey there is the maritime museum with its deliberate reference to both the sinking of the Lusitania and the Titanic. These are cathedrals built on the servitude of others. The great ship Liners.

The Titanic Museum in Belfast is a fascinating multi-dimensional experience of an all too human story of folly and greed. Of course, the estimable Harland and Wolff in Belfast built the ship and the remnants of their trade are close by. The finest shipbuilders on the planet and on the first voyage it sank. Nothing to do with the shipbuilders though. They were only obeying orders. They were told what to do. A problem endemic to our age.

Shipbuilders and the song about same by Mr. Declan McManus aka Elvis Costello, expresses the peace-time decline of ports like Liverpool and Belfast. In the Maritime Museum there is a reconstructed railway which used to tour the docks and circumnavigate the port so everyone could gaze in wonder at the modern-day cathedrals. The harbour in Liverpool was empty apart from the ferry across the Mersey.

So, Cathedrals of the church and of man are symbols of mammon and greed and circuses for the people. Gaze in wonder, but understand the human cost. We do not need cathedrals however pleasant to look at but real property, real health care and real service for real people.

The Cathedrals we need in fact are community and connectedness. We need to talk to each other and understand the other point of view, just as in Raymond Carver‘s greatest story in 1983 about the narrator’s gradual empathy with the blind friend of his wife. Humankind. Called Cathedral.

So, I fell on the stairs at the Protestant cathedral. Lifted by a wayfaring stranger who said in deep scouse: ‘You all right lad?’

And, as I was leaving Manchester, outside my hotel, a man asked: ‘Are you Mr. Langwallner? Well yes. He responded: ‘We will build a plaque for FE Smith.’

Maybe some good will come out of all of this after all.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

Previously: 42 Clifton Road