Sunday, 21 November 2010

Garrow's Humour

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I wrote about the first series of Garrow's Law, and a second series has now started, which I'm pleased to report maintains the same high standards. It follows the partly true exploits of William Garrow, London barrister at the end of the eighteenth century, who practically invented cross-examination and appears to have played a great part in removing many injustices from the UK legal system. It's a triumph for writer and creator Tony Marchant.

Consider the second episode of series 2; in this, Marchant notes the iniquity of harsher sentences for women than men for the same offences. Phebe Harris was condemned to death by burning for counterfeiting coins (for which men would be hanged), and the sentence was executed on 21st June 1786. Thankfully, by 1790, when Sophie Girton was sentenced the same, she was pardoned (although still transported to Australia!), and the abolition of burning was well on the way.

He also weaves a story about a gay relationship uncovered by a spurned wife with the apparently widespread practice of blackmailing men by threatening to report them for sodomy (which carried the death sentence, even if consensual). Needless to say, a proportion of the male population indulged and discovery was much feared. Really thoughtfully done, although possibly a little anachronistic occasionally.

It highlights, I think, how far we've come in this country in a comparatively short time, but also how far we can fall, if primitive forces are allowed to prevail in our modern, liberal, secular societies. We have the prospect of an old man in a hat telling 1 billion people that they can now use condoms 'in certain cases'. Well, I don't think it should take a William Garrow to sort out these 'cases'; Catholics should tell the Pope to stick his 'certain cases' where the sun don't shine, and tell him to start thinking rationally and not doctrinally, where people's health is concerned.


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