John Baker was a solicitor (we would say “lawyer”) who started life in pinched and diminished circumstances. One of the purposes for writing his auto-biography was to confute the notion that high court judges, which he became, are all peers of the realm “who have never known hardship.” They are depicted, Baker believes, as either “short tempered old sadists” or “liberal softies.”
Baker’s father abandoned his mother when he was still an infant, and he was raised and educated by the largesse of his grandfather. He managed one year at Oxford on a scholarship, and also trained for the Navy while at college.
While waiting for the results of his bar exams, Baker went to America as part of the Second Atlantic Conference of Young Political Leaders in 1959. There he was interviewed by Dave Garroway of the Today show, and learned a lot about Davy Crockett and America’s plan to put a man on the moon. He found the American tobacco so weak he gave up smoking. When he returned to England he learned he’d passed his exams and began practicing law with a firm that was predisposed to work with Commonwealth citizens, where he tried sixty-nine cases in the first five months. Baker chooses not to recount many of his cases in the book but recalls one in which there was a confrontation between two drivers. A mysterious man approached him during lunch and offered him some professional looking photographs of the incident at question which would resolve the disputed points in the case. Later Baker learned that this stranger – “his English was good and his manners were impeccable” – was a Russian spy.
Baker achieved success not only as a solicitor and judge but in business, assisting in the initiation of Independent Television (perhaps his experience with Dave Garroway planted the seeds). He was an active Liberal politician but ultimately returned to the law. The longest sentence the judge passed was his last, 15 years for child molestation, pointing up a significant difference in the British system and our own. Baker decries the increase of violence in his native England, citing the fact that too often, fights start with fisticuffs and end with a knife being used. Again, this is a telling dcontrast between English society and our own: the use of personal firearms there is practically unknown
I found this book to be slightly repetitious and slow going. The author intended to include all the facts about his rather colorful life, but without the understanding of how to draw the color out. What he offers is dry and impersonal, even for a Brit. The chronology is flawed with skips forward and back which I found distracting. The bold crowded print has a POD feel. Yet for all that, the judge in John Baker has offered many opinions about his society and his mission that may serve as a guide to others.