Amongst my circle of friends, Tuesday evening was hotly anticipated for the return of Peter Moffat’s legal drama Silk on the BBC. Its first season focused on the race to the lofty heights of Queens Counsel between tenants from the same chambers, Martha Costello (portrayed by Maxine Peake) and Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones). Now in its second season, Martha Costello finds herself having to adjust to life as a QC with a new, better class of work and soothe the ego of once lover, now defeated opponent, Mr Reader.
Shoe Lane Chambers had a busy year last year. Not only did it have two senior members battling it out for silk, and tenants and clerk seeking the removal of their Senior Clerk, Shoe Lane also had emerging talents Nick Slade and Niamh Cranitch – having secured the much sought after pupillage opportunity – seeking tenancy and to make names for themselves. These stories, by and large, weren’t developed in Silk’s return to the screen, however, that isn’t to say that they won’t be in future. If Niamh returns I will be pleasantly surprised given Natalie Dormer’s commitments to HBO’s critically acclaimed show Game of Thrones. One way in which the threads of last season’s storylines were developed was Shoe Lane’s Head of Chambers Mr Cowdrey QC informing Billy Lamb, Shoe Lane’s paternal and influential clerk, that his talents were to be deployed elsewhere and Billy’s would be usurper, John, would be taking over Fees.
Upon reflection, this development is unsatisfying; Moffat went to great lengths to portray a compelling story of revolution from unsatisfied junior members pitted against an experienced clerk seeking to maintain his empire, perhaps even save face in the state of Shoe Lane’s accounts, manipulating Mr Reader to betray his would be co-revolutionaries. The conflict’s resolution was worth the wait – Billy Lamb coming out on top (a role that clerks in Peter Moffat legal dramas appear to relish) in one fell swoop, without so much as an insight as to why Billy has lost part of his empire.
Yet Shoe Lane’s finances are no different. Billy reveals to Martha, though without complete disclosure, in courting solicitors George Duggan (Indira Varma) and Micky Joy (Phil Davis) the importance of a job well done and a job well received being in the best interests of Shoe Lane. It’s not the first time that a Moffat legal drama has chambers seeking to impress a better standard of solicitor than they are used to, nor is it the first time in a Moffat legal drama that one of those solicitors represents an influential crime family. A distinction between Silk and North Square in this regard, however, is that in North Square the new chambers (mostly) pulls together to acquire a new profitable source of income, whilst in Silk Costello’s professional and personal integrity won’t allow her to feed her client to the wolves. We will be interested to see what story is told as a result of Martha’s unwavering dedication to her client’s interests first and foremost when the context of that dedication doesn’t involve a burglar, but an organised crime family.
With Martha’s ascension, we are introduced to new advocates for her to bounce off. Caroline Warwick QC, called ‘Lady MacBeth’ by her peers, and Shoe Lane’s Head of Chambers Alan Cowdrey QC are opposing counsel in Costello’s first trial as a QC. The relationship between Crowder and Costello isn’t advanced, but with the emphasis of silk in court now seeming to be the lofty heights of the independent Bar, we can hope that it will be. There are hints with Lady MacBeth courting Costello to potentially join Shoe Lane. Such an acquisition by Shoe Lane would surely demonstrate the chamber’s up and coming status – going from one QC to three – but it would also show that the stories Moffat and Silk will tell involve the intrigues of politics of chambers and the upper echelons of the Bar.
Those of us who watch legal dramas and are also interested in the law can often spot errors in procedure and substance. First and foremost, legal dramas are entertainment and not documentaries. In this episode of Silk, however, there is a glaring error that really cannot be forgiven, instead of explained away as a storytelling device, as errors often are. In his direction to the jury, the trial judge (Nicholas Jones of Kavanagh QC fame) tells the jury that they must find the defendant guilty. This is clearly inconsistent with the law as it stands today, R v Wang  1 W.L.R. 661.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, delivering the judgment of the House of Lords says:
no matter how inescapable a judge may consider a conclusion to be, in the sense that any other conclusion would be perverse, it remains his duty to leave the decision to the jury and not to dictate … what that verdict should be.
It could be argued that the error in judgment was seeded to give grounds for appeal, but this argument falls away at the conclusion of the episode. That being said, the episode was entertaining. Martha has someone new to compete with, the politics of Shoe Lane moved up a notch, and Billy’s next move should maintain the intrigue that Moffat envisaged when he began Silk, as well as a compelling story being told about a simple man’s noble resistance to criminality and pain.