Sunday, 1 December 2013

Writing a Legal Thriller Set in the English Courts

Jac Wright, Author, British, Mystery, Legal, Thriller, Suspense, The Reckless Engineer
A Crown Court Courtroom
The Reckless Engineer is as much a legal thriller of a case through the English criminal courts as a traditional murder mystery. I thought this was fitting because the lawyers get involved the moment a suspect is taken into custody. The police get 48 hours to either charge the suspect or release him. To hold the suspect in custody for longer they must present their case to a Magistrate and get a court order showing good cause.

There are two criminal courts in the English system: the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court. All criminal cases start in the lower Magistrates’ Court, which continues to hear the cases of smaller crimes carrying community service or shorter custodial sentences. The cases in the Magistrates Court are usually heard by a less senior officer called a Magistrate. This lower court will pass on the hearings of more serious crimes carrying longer custodial sentences and generally requiring a jury over to the Crown Court.

Writing a legal thriller through the English courts is, however, a daunting task to take on. There are no legal thrillers set in the British courts that I am aware of.  I have read Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series in my late teens, but these stories are set in an American court. Even most of John Grisham’s cases are based in civil litigation. Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer series is the strongest contemporary criminal litigation stories I know. I decided to base no part of my book on past literature, not only because there were no past thrillers I could find based in English courts, but also because I wanted this work to be real, contemporary, and original. I decided to write it from real experience of the English courts system.

Fortunately I have a close friend who is a barrister to help me with my legal research and in whose image I have cast Harry Stavers. I followed my friend and his solicitors through months of criminal litigation, from the initial arrest and interview of suspects at police stations through to criminal appeals in the high court. I have spent many a day sitting in a courtroom, absorbing the environment and the proceedings. The rigorous and solemn Crown court hearings are a grand affair with wigged and cloaked judges and court officers.  I have also spent many hours reading my friend’s legal books searching for the right procedures and real case histories.

Behind the calm and solemn proceedings, the police station and the courtroom is arena of fierce duelling and battle. The police lie, the prosecutors lie; the witnesses and the lawyers lie at times. Unfortunately, the rich and the powerful do get away with crimes  or get light sentences while the poor get treated harshly unfairly in the British courts. I decided, however, not to explore that in the book. I decided to make the court system equally just and tough for the rich and poor alike in The Reckless Engineer.

Jac Wright, Author, British, Mystery, Legal, Thriller, Suspense, The Reckless EngineerThe result is something unique––a traditional murder mystery closely woven together with a realistic and contemporary legal thriller through the English courts.  We therefore fittingly have an English Magistrates’ courtroom in the cover art.


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