Horace Rumpole forgoes his usual diet of lowlife clients (Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, 2004, etc.) to defend an accused terrorist, with predictably lightsome results.
According to Peter Plaistow, who’s been prosecuting threats against Her Majesty’s government for as long as Rumpole’s been swilling Château Thames Embankment, Dr. Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who’s lived half his life in the Kilburn house his father left him, is a terrorist. For security reasons, however, neither Rumpole nor his client is allowed to know exactly what offenses he’s supposed to have committed. When Rumpole goes up against Plaistow in court, his ringing invocation of the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights gets him nothing but a lecture about how “jury trials and the presumption of innocence may have been all very well in their day.” Meanwhile, his wife Hilda, who confides to her diary that Dr. Khan “must be dangerous or the government wouldn’t have arrested him in the first place,” is concerned about Rumpole’s possible designs on a sweet young thing but scarcely notices that the judge she’s seeing is bent on easing her into divorce.
The rollicking means by which Rumpole wangles a jury trial, in which he can learn what his client is accused of and then get him acquitted, shed no light on the graver conflicts between state security and individual freedom, but there’s never any doubt which side Mortimer is on.