I mentioned in my last post that during lockdown, I’ve been taking full advantage of my library subscription and utilising the audiobook facility. I adore listening while cooking or on my walks or pottering around the house, finding great comfort in the spoken words during these long winter days. I’ve already listened to five ebooks since January 2021, yet this one in particular has left me compelled to share my thoughts with you.
The Prosecutor by Nazir Afzal has been on my list since it was published almost a year ago, back in April 2020. I’ve been aware of Nazir’s legal work for longer though, gaining a deep insight into the impact and importance of his legacy and activism as I attended various training courses and conferences around domestic abuse, FGM, modern slavery and so-called ‘honour killings’.
For those of you that aren’t familiar, here is a brief overview (taken from the Penguin website):
The outsider who transformed our justice system
Nazir Afzal knows a thing or two about justice. As a Chief Prosecutor, it was his job to make sure the most complex, violent and harrowing crimes made it to court, and that their perpetrators were convicted. From the Rochdale sex ring to the earliest prosecutions for honour killing and modern slavery, Nazir was at the forefront of the British legal system for decades.
But his story begins in Birmingham, in the sixties, as a young boy facing racist violence and the tragic death of a young family member – and it’s this that sets him on the path to his groundbreaking career, and which enables him to help communities that the conventional justice system ignores, giving a voice to the voiceless.
A memoir of struggle and survival as well as crime and punishment, The Prosecutor is both a searing insight into the justice system and a powerful story of one man’s pursuit of the truth.
I listened intently as Nazir begin his memoir with tales of his childhood, peppered with travels that changed him indefinitely, grief, his encounters of racist abuse and attacks, and being raised by a proud father and strong mother in the UK. It was through seeing first-hand injustices in his own community and subsequently being told, ‘that’s just the way it is’ that inspired Nazir to embark on his legal career.
Once qualified and established as a criminal defence solicitor, he soon talks of the case in which his personal values meant he decided to walk away from that role for good. Nazir then joined the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and played a key part in making some important and timely changes to the system, having an undeniably profound impact on many lives.
Social equality and justice is something that I have a keen interest in. I connected with this book instantly, consuming it within one weekend. Nazir’s values mirror my own and I felt myself nodding in agreement with many of his opinions. He told his stories with humility and transparency, ensuring that the cases he discussed never detracted from the victims and outcomes.
Some of these cases were close to home, quite literally in the last few chapters, as Nazir moved to the North West in 2011 and began working as the Cheif Crown Prosecutor. These include the Manchester gang criminal who callously took the lives of two female police officers, Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, in 2012, and another who coldly shot 23-year-old student, Anuj Bidve, in broad daylight. The Rochdale grooming case has been widely publicised within the national media but to hear about this from Nazir’s perspective was fascinating yet heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.
One that I was already aware of, yet still shocked me all over again, was a landmark modern slavery case in Salford, involving a deaf child being trafficked to the UK and used as a slave to a millionaire couple, who between them, repeatedly raped and beat her for many years, amongst other despicable acts. What struck me when listening to Nazir talk about this case, and how he worked directly with the victim to pursue justice, was his sincerity and determination to do the right thing, whatever the cost.
He is also very open and opinionated about the flaws within the legal system, discussing his concerns about a lack of diverse leadership, industry professionals not being allowed to speak up, and the real and detrimental impact of budget cuts. Nazir also shares the effect his work inevitably had on his family life, putting them in unpleasant situations at the hands of certain far-right groups and extremists.
Much of Nazir’s work, even to this day, involves challenging the exploitation of women and girls, highlighting the importance of us all speaking out against dangerous and outdated behaviours and attitudes. His unwavering integrity and passion for helping to eradicate such abhorrent, damaging issues, and willingly lending his powerful voice to those who do not have one, is clear and admirable.
I found The Prosecutor to be less of an overly glamorised ‘true crime’ book and more of a first-hand, honest insight into how these cases progressed behind the scenes, which in my option, is what made it so engaging. This narrative helped me, as a reader, to stay grounded, and served as a frequent reminder that these cases centre around real human beings and are not simply sources of entertainment.
You can more about Nazir and his work here: www.nazirafzal.co.uk