Saturday, February 11, 2012

Garrow's Law

(This post is part of a series on the 14 Top TV Dramas You’ve Never Seen)

Continuing our countdown of the Top TV Dramas You’ve Never Seen, we come to Number 10, Garrow's Law. William Garrow was a real-life British barrister in the late 1700s, a time when the accused were at the mercy of the court — and the court was not very merciful. These were times of speedy trials — many court hearings lasted only eight minutes, often followed by horrific death penalties (hanging and then being drawn and quartered, or being burned alive). As many as 20 trials a day would take place at the Old Bailey (the London criminal courthouse). Garrow was a poor boy who became a lawyer and then devoted his career to defending the indigent, the ignorant, and the weakest members of London society, often without regard to whether he was paid. He may have been the first pro bono attorney, offering free legal aid. He pursued justice while building a reputation in the press and cultivating enemies in high places. It was Garrow who changed English law, refined the art of cross-examination, and coined the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”.

Each episode features a case inspired by historical legal proceedings recorded in the Old Bailey Archives (You can read actual cases from the Old Bailey trials online). According to the show's writer, Tony Marchant, Garrow invented courtroom drama. "As a writer, I simply read his outbursts and marveled at the man who was scared of nobody, and who verbally savaged so many." Garrow's passionate and strident oratory made him the most famous — and feared — barrister of his day. Aidan McArdle play the prosecutor Silvester, the Hamilton Burger to Andrew Buchan (Garrow)'s Perry Mason. But unlike Perry Mason, Garrow loses cases, as when he watches his client, a mute 10-year-old boy, condemned to the gallows.

As the TV series reveals, Garrow's private life was as interesting as his courtroom antics. He fell in love with the wife of an important politician and member of the government and ultimately married her. (In real life, the object of Garrow’s desire was the man’s paramour, not his wife). The series is still airing and has just wrapped up its third season. Below, you'll find links to the show's listings at the Internet Movie Database,, an episode guide, a clip from the series hosted on YouTube, and a link to purchase the DVDs on Amazon. 

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