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24 April 2023

Sam Fowles: “So much of public debate is disconnected from the truth”

The barrister on Indiana Jones, David Guetta and why you should always go to the bathroom before going into court.

By New Statesman

Sam Fowles was born in Hillingdon, London, in 1989. A barrister, he has worked on cases including Boris Johnson’s 2019 proroguing of parliament, and the parliamentary inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s actions at a vigil for Sarah Everard.

What’s your earliest memory?

Going with my dad when he voted in the 1997 general election. We had the day off because my school was a polling station. I remember being aware, for the first time, that something important was happening.

Who are your heroes?

As a child it was Indiana Jones. As an adult, it’s impossible to choose one. But when I founded the Institute for Constitutional and Democratic Research I asked all my legal heroes – both at my chambers and elsewhere – to join as fellows and they said yes. They all fight for what’s right.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Belle of Belfast City, a play by Christina Reid. I’ve argued a lot of cases about the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict. This made me refocus from the legal arguments and think more about the humanity of those involved.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d hang out in Paris in the 1920s, desperately hoping to be discovered by Sylvia Beach.

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What TV show could you not live without?

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It only ran for one season but it’s a beautiful show about telling truth to power through culture and comedy. Ironically, it was cancelled (partly) because it came in for too much criticism from the US Christian right.

Which political figure do you look up to?

David Maxwell Fyfe. He was a prosecutor at Nuremberg and a lead author of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Who would paint your portrait?

Banksy, but only if it meant I could find out who they are.

What’s your theme tune?

“Titanium” by David Guetta and Sia. At university, in 2012, I led a campaign to have women take part in the traditions that had excluded them until then. A club of male students tried to smear me and get me fired from my role as vice-president of the student union. When they failed I started playing this song as a (tongue in cheek) show of defiance.

[See also: Is democracy slowly collapsing in Westminster?]

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Always go to the bathroom before going into court because you don’t know how long you’ll be in there.

What’s currently bugging you?

That so much of public debate is totally disconnected from the truth.

What single thing would make your life better?

At least a few years without a national crisis please. My generation have lived our whole adult lives suffering from crises caused by those in power.

When were you happiest?

Winter 2018. I’d just achieved my lifetime ambition of becoming a barrister and my girlfriend had agreed to marry me.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Rugby player or brain surgeon. Sadly I’m not very good at rugby (or brain surgery).

Are we all doomed?

I’d like to think not, but that’s why democracy is so important. If those in power aren’t accountable to us as citizens then the question of whether we’re doomed is outside our control. Taking control of our destiny by democratising our constitution is the only way to ensure we’re not doomed.

“Overruled: Confronting our Vanishing Democracy in 8 Cases” by Sam Fowles is published by Oneworld

[See also: We look to the young for a better future – but they are turning away from democracy]

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This article appears in the 26 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The New Tragic Age