Last Night’s TV – Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey

by Lynn Connolly

garrows law
Until I watched this show last night, I didn’t realise it was based on the true life tales of both Garrow and some of his clients, and it made an already very good drama excellent.

Andrew Buchan as the pioneering, genuinely caring lawyer – which is why I at first thought it was all a fiction – understatedly and utterly convincingly wandered the corridors of the Old Bailey doing his best for the wrongly accused innocents.

His associate and mentor Southouse was similarly nobly portrayed by Alun Armstrong, and together with a cast of genuinely convincing 18th century folk – well done costume and make-up department – we were transported back to a time when the accused’s solicitor couldn’t speak to the jury, were not privy to the deposition against their client, weren’t permitted to visit their client or to deliver an opening statement or closing speech in court.

Little wonder then that so many hanged by the neck ‘til they be dead in those days, and for Garrow, there was a bit of an upcock when one of his wrongly accused and totally innocent clients was found guilty of theft and was therefore, toast. Out came the judge’s black cloth and all hope for saving the innocent man was lost.

But things improved for Garrow’s clients as the drama moved on amid enchanting Dickensian sets of bawdy taverns, desolate prisons and the fusty old-boy network against which Garrow railed. In part, that was perhaps because it was a group he could not be a part of – given he didn’t go to the ‘right’ educational establishments and therefore presumably wasn’t buggered by the ‘right’ sorts – but we happily got the impression he wouldn’t want to be if he could. Go Garrow!

William Garrow really was an inspiration and a pioneer, and our courtrooms and justice system would arguably be very different today were it not for him and his many fights for real justice. Mind you, some might argue that a time when the accused probably couldn’t even have a lawyer, and was pretty much assumed guilty on all charges, is mournful in its passing, but most likely not if you’re the accused in question.

And many of Garrow’s accused clients got a rather better deal than the innocent man who hanged, and a woman who accidentally killed her baby prompted all manner of quantum shifts in the system. And all the while, Buchan portrayed Garrow as a dynamic – if short-tempered – ‘can do’ sort of a bloke. And it all had me almost cheering.

If you missed this first episode, you can catch it here on iPlayer, but to give it full value, watch by lamplight when the weather’s howling its worst outside your window. You’ll feel really in the thick of it then! So basically, any time from 4pm onwards in any part of the country will do it…

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.