Ahead of the publication of his book, No Lawyers in Heaven, Henry Milner tells us why he decided to write about his memoirs as a criminal lawyer...
Well over a year ago, I went to lunch with my super editor, Olivia Beattie, to discuss a crime novel I had written, provisionally entitled The Only Gangster in Heaven (to be published in 2021). The plot centres around a loan shark shot dead in broad daylight outside the very front doors of the Old Bailey. Over lunch I soon discovered I had an avid listener and, warming to my task, I started telling her a few amusing legal anecdotes.
Olivia suggested I should write an autobiography, convincing me that the public had an insatiable appetite for real-life crime stories. She added that, if I did write a memoir, we should publish that first.
True, I had a lot of stories to tell but it had never even crossed my mind to put them in writing rather than recounting one or two here and there at dinner parties. I certainly hadn’t kept all my old files going back some forty years and, frankly, I thought the task would be an impossible one. But I gave it a try and sat at home at night after work, writing the first five chapters at all too leisurely a pace and doubting it would ever be completed. I sent them to my good friend, John Mathew QC, to read. He rang me up and said enthusiastically, ‘Henry, I’ve only got two words to say to you – more please!’ He added that although we have known each other over thirty years, he never had the slightest idea about my background or how I started up in criminal law.
Well, this gave me a new impetus and when the coronavirus pandemic set in, and with no new case in sight, I spent my days ploughing on and on, deep in nostalgia, trying to bring to life the good old days when trials were thrilling, when verballing was rife and when great advocates had a chance to show their true worth cross-examining Flying Squad officers. When judges were larger-than-life characters and would constantly interfere in the proceedings; when many trials were pure theatre – a time now virtually dead and gone due to the advent of mobile telephone printouts, DNA and CCTV cameras everywhere.
Being a beginner, I spent far too much time romanticising over the title options, which ranged from the somewhat academic Presumed Innocent – Assumed Guilty, to the moralistic I Did Not Come to Lose and, finally, to the outrageous Miracles Cost Extra (my editor’s favourite!), before plumping for No Lawyers in Heaven, based on the premise that if prosecutors, judges, police officers and defendants were the gatekeepers to heaven, you would have to look long and hard to find any lawyers there – whatever the verdict someone would have the needle with you.
I have read a fair few legal autobiographies in my time. Many, sadly, go into so much detail on each case that you feel as if you are attending a tutorial, and so at all costs I have striven to avoid boring the reader rigid with facts and figures. Instead I have concentrated on the moments that I hope the reader will find interesting, those which give a real insight into what actually goes on in a trial as a case unfolds.
My story begins with my school and university days and how I stumbled into criminal law and, after a few lucky verdicts, found myself to be a ‘dot on the map’, following right through to recent times and the pros and cons of retirement – perish the thought!
No Lawyers in Heaven is out on 3 November. Pre-order your copy here!