15:26, August 01 166 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-01 15:26:03
Marcel Berlins, the Guardian's 'brilliant, humane' legal columnist, dies at 77

The Guardian journalist Marcel Berlins has died at the age of 77. The writer, lawyer and academic wrote about the law and crime fiction for the title and others, including the Times, during his career.

He was remembered for his brilliantly clear style of writing and his sense of humanity by former colleagues. He died on Wednesday, following a brain haemorrhage.

“Marcel really was a brilliant commentator on the law. He made it accessible to the ordinary reader. And what’s more, he did so with a sense of humanity. His wonderful writing will be missed,” said Dr Paul Lashmar of City, University of London, where Berlins taught media law.

In one of his final articles for the Guardian, Berlins wrote that it was Orson Welles’s onscreen depiction of Clarence Darrow, the prominent American lawyer who defended two high-profile murderers threatened with the death penalty in 1924, who encouraged his early fascination with the law and justice.

“Their guilt was not in doubt; the evidence was overwhelming. The only issue was whether they should be hanged or sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge alone would decide. The 10 or so minutes of Welles’ passionate argument against the death penalty – following closely Darrow’s speech in the original trial – was filmed in one take, with only a few seconds when the camera was not on the actor,” Berlins wrote in 2010.

“The judge decided on life. I was mesmerised when I first saw it. So that’s what being a lawyer is all about. I watched it on YouTube the other day with the same reaction.”

A statement from City released on Thursday described Berlins as a “deeply intelligent and kind man” who would be remembered by his students for the “clarity and insight that he brought to complex legal concepts”.

Berlins wrote about the law for the Guardian and served the Times as its legal correspondent and a reviewer of crime fiction; subjects about which he was particularly passionate. He also presented BBC Radio 4’s legal programme, Law in Action. In its obituary, the Times remembered Berlins as an “affable and cultured” man.