My Social Media: Sir Henry Brooke

Continuing our series by lawyers on how they use social media for professional and personal development.

I have always been intrigued by the possibilities which electronic communications might open up for judges and lawyers. 30 years ago I led for the Bar in discussions with BT about the usefulness of an early email system called Telecom Gold. As a judge I used FELIX, a bulletin board devised by John Mawhood and Sean Overend, and then I was into the world of the internet and the opportunities for getting our judgments online swiftly via BAILII. I moved from analogue to digital, from slow modems to ultra-fast broadband. What more was there to learn and do?

Three years ago I set sail, rather nervously, in the world of Twitterland as @HenryBrooke1. The more I saw of it, the more I realised its possibilities. So long as you limited your “follows”, there were masses of up to date news and reports you had no chance of accessing so fast by other means. I add my own thoughts from time to time. I also use Facebook, but much less often as I am anxious about privacy issues. And although I am registered on LinkedIn, for a retired judge and mediator it seems to have limited usefulness.

I sometimes found the 140-character limit per tweet a bit constricting. This is why I started the Sir Henry Brooke blog last October.

There were two other reasons why I started to blog. The first was that I had kept a lot of my writings from my time on the Bench (and afterwards) in digital form. They include matters that are still of interest today – race relations and diversity training, IT and the law (including the birth of BAILII), judicial administration, the advent of human rights law and so on – and although I had deposited a collection of them with the UCL Judicial Institute, this seemed a good opportunity to publish some of them more widely.

The other reason was that although I have an aversion to judicial memoirs, I was often being asked to write down some of my memories of the last 60 years.

Hence the blogsite. Perhaps I would have started earlier if I had known how. It was Catherine Baksi, the freelance journalist, who told me of the wonders of WordPress, and off I went on my own. One day when the site starts getting unmanageable I will need some expert advice.

I called the site “Henry Brooke – Musings, memories and miscellanea.” This was a catch-all way of ensuring I could blog about whatever took my fancy. It has now had over 25,000 visits, and although most are from the UK, people from 82 countries had paid a visit before the end of 2015.

My memories of the past seem to be most popular: last year “A Lifetime in the Law” received most “views” (887). This year my father’s speech in the 1964 capital punishment debate attracted a lot of interest. Since 1st January it received the most views (512), followed by a blog on Honorary QCs (512), a tribute to my old friend Tony Hidden (former High Court Judge) (494), a blog on the cost to public funds of the NHLSA’s refusals to mediate (420), a blog on my father’s involvement in the Stephen Ward case (386) and a passage from Homer’s Odyssey in the original Greek (accents and all) to mark our Golden Wedding on April 16 (371). This gives an idea of the breadth of the topics I cover.

I am currently using the site to blog about the work of Lord Bach’s Access to Justice Commission, of which I am a member. I have just finished uploading summaries of all the evidence we had received before Easter. One of the strengths of the Commission is that it provides an expert independent forum for receiving and publishing evidence about what has recently gone so badly wrong in relation to justice for the poor and disadvantaged, and ideas on how things could be put back on the rails again. My blogsite is ideal for publicising this material.

One of the advantages of old age is that it provides more time for reading and thinking and writing about things. I could not possibly have produced the three blogs about Charles Dickens’s novels, which covered the New Poor Law, Doctors’ Commons and Debtors’ Prisons while I was active as a judge. Perhaps one day I will write something about the sponging house to which Rawdon Crawley retreated from his creditors in Vanity Fair. Watch this space.

Henry Brooke is a retired judge. He introduced computers to the Bar, was President of SCL, and chaired the Board of Trustees of BAILII. He blogs at Email Twitter @HenryBrooke1.