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We ain't no angels - TV's mixed efforts to portray life at the criminal Bar

Author: forthedefence |

06 Jan 2012 | 12:15

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You may have spent an hour of your life last night watching the first episode of new ITV1 legal drama Eternal Law. If you missed it, in short, two angels have been sent from heaven to practise at the criminal defence Bar, and they're not allowed to have sex with the locals. On the other hand, the local prosecutor is an agent of the devil and can have sex with whom he pleases.

Verisimilitude is low.

Life is crazy enough without the wings

Since Rumpole, television has tried to recreate the life of the criminal barrister. The wonderful John Thaw as the passionate common sense silk Kavanagh QC. The charming Rupert Penry-Jones as womanizer Alex Hay in North Square, then older and more coke-addled Clive Reader in Silk. Julie Walters as chain-smoking (scarily realistic) Emma Watts QC in The Jury.

Real serious actors, real serious money dramatising a profession, and a particular part of a single profession.

We're all portrayed as being wealthy unless you're a pupil. But don't worry, pupils knock back a bottle of champagne in Daly's after their first dangerous dogs trial in Camberwell Mags.

We're all portrayed as being overly emotionally involved. We're all apparently public schooled, Oxbridge educated and have plummy 1920 BBC pronunciation. The non-wigged reader will know it ain't so.

Justice is interesting enough

Clip the wings of Eternal Law. The life of the criminal barrister is interesting enough, honest. The criminal Bar (although not as diverse as it ought to be) is more diverse than our portrayal.

My clients have ranged from the drug addict to the international businessman; a freedom fighter fleeing oppression to a farmer; shoplifter to murderer. All have fascinating stories. Most criminal barristers do the job as it is incredibly interesting.

The devil is in the detail

OK, so all the television programmes I have mentioned are fictional. They are designed to entertain. But the Bar is a mystery. Television cameras don't enter our courts. We wear a wig to work. We eat in candlelight in the Inns of Court.

I imagine most people will come into contact with the criminal justice system in their lifetime, be it as a witness, defendant, professional or juror. Their expectations are partly built by our dramatised portrayal.

If the portrayal of criminal lawyers and criminal justice was more realistic then perhaps jurors wouldn't shirk, witnesses would come forward, expectations would be different. If the portrayal of criminal lawyers and criminal justice was more realistic then perhaps a wider group of people would consider a career within, or different people would come forward to sign up.

I guarantee TV producers that they don't need the wings and horns - Eternal Law star Sam West's talents could be used in a better way.

The battle for justice is epic enough.

Eternal Law is broadcast on ITV1 at 9pm on Thursdays.

forthedefence is a barrister specialising in crime, prison law and public law. Click here to visit his blog and click here to follow him on Twitter.

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