Sunday, 22 November 2009

Garrow and the Gallows

An absolutely splendid series ended tonight on the BBC - Garrow's Law, created by Tony Marchant.

It told the tale of the early career of Sir William Garrow, a little known barrister of Georgian times, whose combative style practically invented the adversarial system. Justice for defendants was rarely served at that time - they often had no representation, and when they did matters of fact could not be disputed and the jury could not be addressed directly. Thief-takers were common and unscrupulous. Punishments were extremely harsh.

With clever and witty counsel, Garrow achieved justice for many lowly defendants. Without him we may not have many of the features that seek to ensure *fairness* in the application of the law. His case transcripts can be read online at the Old Bailey archive. Well worth a browse.

The final episode was a timely depiction of a trumped-up charge brought by the state against an innocent individual - a state seeking to hold on to undemocratic powers at the expense of its citizens. The parallels with the authoritarian actions of the present government were palpable. I suspect this case wasn't based on a real life case, but I could be wrong (I couldn't find it in the online archive). It seemed to me a call from the creators for us all to take more seriously the curbs on our civil liberties being introduced under the guise of protection from terrorism. We must stand up at some point and fight these, before we become as bad as those we are fighting.

The BBC should be making more shows like this. Bravo.

EDIT: An interview with creator Tony Marchant here reveals that Garrow was responsible for coining the term 'innocent until proven guilty'. A remarkable man indeed. A pity that principle has become muddied recently.


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