As faithful readers of this blog know, for my sins no doubt, I am an attorney. Not having quite enough of the Law during my working hours, I am always on the lookout for good entertainment about lawyers and the law. One of the best I have encountered in many a moon is a BBC series called Garrow’s Law. This is a heavily fictionalized account of the trials, I know I should have resisted that, and tribulations of William Garrow, an Old Bailey, the chief criminal court of London, barrister, who on raw legal talent rose from nothing to become Solicitor General of England and Wales, Attorney General for England and Wales, a Judge, and a Privy Counselor. He originated the phrase presumption of innocence, and first came to notice as a trail blazing defense counsel in regard to the rules of evidence, such as the rule against hearsay.
One of the many things I like about the series is that the people speak as if they were from the Eighteenth Century, formal and baroque, rather than modern actors and actresses in period costume grunting modern slang. Andrew Buchan is magnificent as William Garrow, casting a romantic image over someone who probably had in reality the romantic charm of most attorneys, little or none. Alun Armstrong as John Southouse, Garrow’s mentor and the attorney who normally brings him cases, assays his role as a fount of common sense, mixed with comedic elements, as he exerts a steadying influence on his brilliant, but erratic, protege. Michael Culkin as Judge Buller, portrays the Judge that Garrow normally appears in front of. He can be exasperated by some of the flamboyant tactics of the unorthodox Garrow, but comes to appreciate the hard core of legal ability that Garrow possesses. Lyndsey Marshal is Lady Sarah Hill, the love interest of Garrow. I could do without the soap opera element, but their relationship is handled with decorum and does not detract from the show.
The show is fairly realistic in its courtroom presentations set in the 1790’s. Trials are swift. The attorneys may not normally make opening and closing speeches to juries, so they attempt to make speeches part of their questions, which draws frequent objections from their adversaries. The rules of evidence were then in their infancy, so much evidence is allowed in that a jury would not see today. Jurors do not leave the box to deliberate, but talk among themselves and render a verdict after a few minutes consultation. Judges sum up the evidence to the juries and their summing up often has a very great impact on the ultimate verdict. If a sentence of death is to be imposed, a black veil is placed on top of the judge’s wig. Sentences are carried out swiftly after verdict, with executions being carried out a few days after trial. All this takes place before vociferous crowds that come for entertainment purposes. At one time Judge Buller chides one attorney that they are not at a music hall, and then adds, with his customary dry humor, that a music hall charges more.
Garrow’s Law is a fascinating look at law and life in the Eighteenth Century and I highly recommend it. The first two seasons of the show are out on DVD.