Broadchurch Revisited

We bloggers are an ecclectic bunch. Compelled from time to time to tell our small part of the world what we are thinking, we do not expect much more exposure. All that was confounded when I risked a few random thoughts about Broadchurch. A brilliant piece of television, but less than legally perfect on the evidence of the first episode of the new series. There, I though matters would rest. Better not risk being a Broadchurch bore.

To my amazement, the blog became the basis for an article in an national paper and invitations to broadcast. Does it matter, asked one interviewer, if drama conatains legal mistakes? As I agree that it is stunningly good television and brilliantly acted, I tried not to overstate the case. Just that it is sad that drama trumps legal accuracy when, with a little more effort, obvious errors could be avoided, without damage to the story.

However one part of the second episode has brought me back to the fray and this time, with a degree of mild anger. In the box was Olivia Coleman’s police officer, married to an alleged killer in the dock. He had confessed and in dire distress, she had attacked him. Now a different scenario was being put by way of a surprising defence. Here was a police based conspiracy and frame up by two biased and incompetant police officers, of which she was one. Oh yes, and the two of them must have been having an affair.

That was the prelude to the hilarious opening question in cross examination along the lines of – what was your sex life like at the time? Well, I thought to myself, i really must remember that, the next time I cross examine a Hampshire police officer. Do my career no end of good. But then came the bits which, perhaps, do matter in a wider context.

For the next few minutes, Defence Counse shouted and sneered in a way I have not seen for thirty years. It was like being trapped in a time warp in a very badly run criminal court that did exist once but thankfully, no more. Oh yes it was dramatic, although I venture to think it should have been tempered at that level. But legally speaking, it was misleading nonsense. And if some poor victim due to give evidence in the near future saw that, might they reasonably have feared that that was the sort of treatment they could expect? Or would they hopefully simply think it was pure drama?

I happen to think that is a fair question. Television may mislead at its peril. Put shortly, it does matter when television gets it as wrong as that.

Let me also put the mitigation. Clearly a lawyer had looked over the examinations in chief, which, with the odd leading question, were pretty good. And the first cross examination of David Tennant’s character was not bad at all. Nor have I the slightest objection to bringing the private lives of the opposing counsel into the story. Particularly when played by such evocative actresses. Wider than that, the series is characterised by brilliant photography of stunning locations and wonderfully haunting music from a young artist. All the cast are convincing and some little extracts brilliantly written and portrated. I am thinking of the childbirth and its aftermath with the father cuddling their new daughter. Outside the law, the script is quite brilliant and deserves every award going.

But please. Listen to the legal advisor a little more next time.

And no, I am not angling for the job.

Nigel Pascoe QC

Broadchurch unpacked…legally speaking

Broadchurch Mark 1 was one of the best pieces of television I have ever seen. Fantastically ingenious plot, truly brilliant performances, I was completely hooked.
I had only one fear when Mark 2 began – that the court scenes would not be authentic.

It is the bugbear for many of us who know the system as it is, purists if not pedants.
How often has really good legal drama been ruined for us by childishly silly mistakes?
The wrong language or a complete disregard of ethical conduct. Procedural nonsense. All predicated on putting the demands of drama before simple authenticity. You can practically hear the tears of the legal advisor as they have been ignored, yet again. At least, where experienced trial counsel have been employed to advise. As they should be on a project of this scale.

Sadly, legal nonsense has now infected Broadchurch. Charlotte Rampling is a very fine actress and I can well see her as a senior silk doing the business. But please! Interviewing the witnesses even by accident, even coaching them, is not on, even in these liberated days. Worse, opening the fact of a confession, which was later ruled inadmissible without the obvious discharge of a jury is daft. Defence Counsel certainly sounded good in court, slowing down her questions very well, but their relevance and admissibily stretched a point. And we don’t tell the jury personal details on the lines of ‘I am a Mum, too.’┬áNot sure about the Judge yet.

But does it really matter? The out of court plot is as compelling as ever and the quality of acting superb. Olivia Coleman has become absolutely top class and David Tennant is now a major actor. Their chemistry is excellent.

If only they had tried a little harder with the Law…

Nigel Pascoe QC