I recently discovered a lesser known BBC series, Garrow’s Law (2009-2012), and highly recommend this superb British period drama based upon the life of 18th-century lawyer William Garrow. As the barrister who demanded that the accused was “innocent until proven guilty,” Garrow became the Perry Mason for the poor and unjustly accused.
But the extraordinary story of William Garrow might never have been dramatized had it not been for the online publication of the Old Bailey Proceedings (1674-1913) in 2008. (The Old Bailey is a reference to the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales). The historical legal cases are spellbinding. From rape and burglary to murder, high treason and corruption, each episode begins with the accused being unable to afford defense counsel and not expecting justice. Garrow and his mentor John Southouse work to uncover the truth, through rigorous cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, paving the way for habeas corpus and the modern legal system.
Thief-takers, heinous opportunists who were a byproduct of the “kangaroo courts” of Garrow’s day, were private individuals much like bounty hunters, who paid others to steal and then either extorted money from the thief or brought him to the court to receive a fee for every guilty verdict. Thief-takers play a key role in many of the court cases argued in front of a minefield of corrupt judges, witnesses, and jurors.
A major subplot running through the series concerns Garrow’s relationship with Lady Sarah Hill, an aristocratic figure with an interest in justice and the law. Lady Sarah’s husband is Sir Arthur Hill, an important politician and member of the government whose values diverge dramatically from Lady Sarah’s.
The superb cast members (Andrew Buchan as William Garrow, Alun Armstrong as Southouse, Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah, and Rupert Graves as Sir Arthur Hill) are all familiar to us from many BBC productions. This series belongs among the very best that television has to offer! Garrow’s Law will satisfy a craving for stories both intimate and political. What makes the series particularly compelling is that each defendant seems doomed almost certainly to either execution or to a very long prison sentence. How Garrow overcomes what seems like insurmountable odds has us cheering passionately for justice for the accused. This BBC series should attract those interested in a delectable treat: justice for those least likely to receive it.