With The Jury airing every day for a week on ITV1 and Garrow’s Law showing on Sundays on BBC1, autumn was pretty exciting for a courtroom drama junkie like me. But, now that both series have ended, I couldn’t help reflecting on the stark contrast between the two programmes. For those of you contemplating buying the DVD box sets for Christmas, here’s what I thought.
Garrow’s Law, now in its third series, provided a brilliant lawyer cracking seemingly impossible cases through clever cross-examination, and also provided those all-important little details which simultaneously inform and entertain the audience. The drama deals with a whole raft of socio-legal issues of the period: unionism, machine breaking, slavery, colonialism, police powers and corrupt elections to name but a few. Each episode is well constructed, with several layers of detail about these issues, which in addition to a cracking good storyline and interesting characters makes the series a rich viewing experience. Indeed, it is the historical details that set this courtroom drama apart from the hundreds that have gone before.
For example, in the first episode, Garrow was battling the eighteenth century legal definition of insanity. Although we may be grateful that we have a less crude understanding of insanity today, the resemblance to the modern day definition of insanity is particularly interesting. Today’s legal definition of insanity stems from the 1843 M’Naghton Case, a legal definition which still bears little relationship to a clinical perception of mental illness.
It is particularly intriguing to observe how present day juries have changed since Garrow’s time. Aside from the fact that the juries were (unsurprisingly for the period) made up of white men of a particular social class, particularly remarkable was how little time a jury spent deliberating their verdicts, especially given that a conviction could in some circumstances lead to the death penalty. There was no retiring to a jury room to reconsider all the evidence and argue as we saw on ITV’s The Jury; just a quick two-minute conference in full view of the courtroom, followed by a verdict. To top it all, on one occasion the judge, unhappy with the verdict, insisted that the jury reconsider while in another episode he left it to the jury to determine the definition of insanity – a question of law which today would be for a judge to determine.
Running in parallel to the courtroom dramatics, in Garrow’s personal life are further interesting examples of how the law has changed. Lady Sarah, Garrow’s partner, is fighting her estranged husband, Sir Arthur, for custody of their son – the laws on custody being framed in terms of a father’s right over his son as opposed the welfare of the child. Some aspects of this part of the story fell a little short. Not because the storyline itself is impossible – indeed the story is highly plausible – as all that Lady Sarah owns (including her clothes, jewels and even her son) legally belongs to her husband. But Lady Sarah’s grief for the loss of her son was somewhat heavy-handed and contrived. It would seem that in order for us to realise that Lady Sarah is pining for her infant son we have to see her sleep-walking while cuddling a blanket.
Despite the blunt metaphor, I very much enjoyed the different layers to Garrow’s Law and hope there may be yet another series to look forward to next year. Sadly I couldn’t say the same of ITV’s The Jury.
The Jury seems to have tried to achieve too much, and ended up achieving nothing. The script writers did have some great ideas, and in theory it really could have been brilliant if the execution weren’t so poor, unsatisfying and actually quite boring. There were far too many plots, and thus much of the drama was spent in setting up the various story lines rather than fleshing them out. It really didn’t do justice (!) to its potential.
First, the characters were two-dimensional and seemed to be rather crude stereotypes. There was the disabled boy who wanted to be ‘normal’, the religious fanatic who believed the defendant’s innocence simply because of his Christian faith, the bigot who had already made up his mind, the kindly old man, the businesswoman too busy to do jury service, her downtrodden assistant, the single middle-aged man who lives with his mum and the teacher who had an affair with her pupil.
There was some attempt to make the characters real, but they felt half-hearted and feeble, almost an afterthought. Rashid, for example, is an 18-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who we see learning to shave and who gets mugged on his way home. Sadly, that’s about it. It’s hardly The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. We never really get to know him, or the ‘condition’ that everyone keeps referring to, and I suspect this is because there were far too many characters and sub-plots to be able to get to know any of them enough to care about them.
Add to that a very unlikely storyline: ‘let’s squeeze in as many potential ways to cause a mistrial as we can’. With overacted, over-punctuated and hammy courtroom scenes, Julie Walters’ gung-ho cross-examination didn’t build up and seemed out of place. Much of the plot was predictable; it was clear where the supposed foreman of the old jury plotline was going from episode two, leading to a frustrating and disappointing drama.
All in all, Garrow’s Law is well worth watching. I recommend the box sets (including previous series), since you learn to appreciate legal rights and processes that we now take for granted, and get to watch some great drama at the same time. The Jury on the other hand won’t teach you anything and isn’t particularly entertaining; watch it online if you have five hours to waste, but don’t bother buying it.
Z. Duaa Izzidien
LPC Student at The College of Law