John Eldridge reviews 'Watching Out: Reflections on justice and injustice' by Julian Burnside

Watching Out belongs to a rare class of book. Written by a lawyer, concerned largely with law, and touching upon such legal esoterica as interim injunctions, it defies all odds in still being eminently accessible to a lay audience. It has, predictably, set off a frisson of excitement in legal Australia, where each new Burnside title is eagerly received and much discussed. Yet even strangers to the law will find it an edifying, rewarding examination of what it means to secure justice.

Like Burnside’s Watching Brief (2008), Watching Out is ambitious in scope. Its avowed aim is ‘to explore the reasons we have a legal system at all, to look at the way it operates in practice, and to point out some ways in which its operation does (or does not) run true to its ultimate purposes’. This grand design is made grander still by Burnside’s wide-ranging method: much of the book is devoted to traversing a diverse range of case studies, from petrol-price-fixing investigations to the landmark stolen-generation case of Bruce Trevorrow. Yet for all the risks involved in such an approach, Burnside succeeds in keeping his overarching theme in focus, and in building to a sophisticated assessment of the limitations of the legal system.

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Published in November 2017, no. 396

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