It would seem that 2011 is the year that the British public’s interest in the law has been re-ignited both on and off screen; the year of the ‘super injunctions’, the News of The World phone hacking scandal and various legal dramas thrust upon us on terrestrial television.
The BBC put its best case forward with youthful wig-stealing pupils and a very dapper Rupert Penry-Jones in Silk.
However, ITV decided to place its legal offering over the course of five nights with new Legal drama The Jury. The format itself is not a new one, having been screened back in 2002 with Sir Derek Jacobi.
The 2011 update has seen Julie Walters, fresh from playing Mrs Weasley in Harry Potter, taking on the role of grizzled Defence QC Emma Watts slated in the press for taking on the much publicised retrial of Alan Lane, charged with three counts of murder.
The defendant is supposed to have met these women in online chatrooms and is supposed to have been obsessed with these women. It is interesting for ITV to be screening a plot so close to the verdict of the Tabak trial which featured one victim being found in woodland, not unlike Joanna Yeates.
But what of the drama itself? We were treated to a particular bout of witty banter between the Prosecution and Defence Counsel on the steps of the Bailey about the cost of taxi fares, male lycra and women who smoke. The main aim is of course to get us as viewers to love Julie Walters’ Emma Watts QC, a hardened defence barrister with a no nonsense approach. This clearly mirrors the portrayal of Martha Costello in Silk by Maxine Peake, who chose to play her barrister role as a girl from a tough area of Bolton who had worked her way up through a male dominated profession. Walters’ character was clearly intended to do the same, to demonstrate to viewers that the profession was open to all and dispel myths.
Viewers were treated to panoramic views of the Old Bailey, lots of oak panelling, views of marble staircases lots of views of barristers sweeping through corridors with flowing gowns and always smiling. It certainly looked very slick and polished but it did certainly lack in terms of reality.
First, one of the jurors was able to be picked up by his father, who miraculously found a parking place… in London… on a busy afternoon.
All jokes aside, the focus is meant to be on the jurors, which ITV have chosen to focus on: we have one juror committing fraud, another having an illicit affair with her underage pupil and another surely heading for some tampering after being followed by a ‘mysterious’ woman.
One cannot help but feel that ITV needs to stick to one or the other. If one wants to show ludicrous drama of personal lives of individuals, turn on half an hour earlier and catch Coronation Street (there’s even murder plots in there these days). The reason Silk worked so well was that it focused on the courtroom drama as much as the dramas of the main cast. The Jury, whilst promoted as a legal drama did not focus much on the law, therefore – based solely on the first episode – it is rather difficult to judge how realistic it is in terms of the procedure, when all we have seen is about less than ten minutes of opening speeches.
The only character we seem to have immediately bonded with is Julie Walters, but that’s no different to any show that she is in, commanding a huge onscreen presence.
The notion of open justice has reared its head more often than not in recent weeks, most notably with the announcement that cameras will be allowed into certain courts. This is, as yet, not likely to be implemented into criminal trials, which means that shows such as these are ways in which the public get their fix of legal ‘highs’. But it does mean that what we see on screen is often not what we would see in real life courtrooms; rather, it is amplified for entertainment purposes. For individuals to be truly informed on the criminal trial, one would recommend a field trip to the Old Bailey to actually see a trial in action.
One hopes that based on the ‘next time’ clip, there will be a chance to see more of the actual legal procedure. The big question is… will we keep watching? Most likely!
BPTC student at City Law School