The stage is the Old Bailey, Georgian England. The plot is whatever case happens to be the most entertaining or scandalous that day. The opportunities prisoners have for defence counsel are minimal, the chances of conviction extremely high. The jury (and the audience; yes, the miserable plight of some being, as always, a ready source of entertainment for others) is rarely sympathetic. The punishments for even petty crimes are usually severe, such as being forcibly branded in court. The sentence for the poor schmuck in the dock? Quite often death. And the worst part? This is all pretty much Truth in Television.
But hey, at least the lawyers are making a bundle.
In a period where it really wasn't fun if you were the one on trial - then again, when is it? - and even less so if you were poor (which you so often were) there were several things sadly missing from the legal system, such as adequate cross-examination, the right of representation for all whether or not they could afford it, and the concept of being innocent until proven guilty. There was, however, William Garrow, who planned to do something about remedying that.
Mind you, there's also the problem of his snobbish colleagues, such as silver-spoon-in-a-certain-orifice Silvester, who looks down upon him because of his common background and the fact that he didn't go to Oxford, and never pass on the chance to impede his progress. Then there's Garrow's mentor, John Southouse, who shares a tumultuous father/son relationship with his former apprentice but now finds himself more and more in his pupil's shadow, both exasperated and impressed by the methods Garrow uses to get his results.
And even despite those methods Garrow would often be lost without the aid of Lady Sarah Hill, who's spotted a like-minded soul in the tempestuous lawyer and quietly helps Garrow to push for social change since, as a woman, she can't very well do it herself. What with Garrow being hopelessly in love with her and hints at her returning the sentiment, it's a shame she's already married, and to a man who really does not like Garrow at that. Guy just can't catch a break.
Add in some poor unfortunate souls as supporting characters, court cases based more or less completely faithfully on real trials recorded in the files of the Old Bailey, a more than solid script, spiffy costumes and a cracking cast, and you more or less have Garrow's Law. The first series (2009) spanned only four episodes but they were a pretty stellar four hours, and the second series (2010) was also excellent. A third series, also of four episodes, finished airing in 2011.
This series has examples of:
- Accusing the Witness: Garrow does this all the time, often eliciting a "Mr. Garrow!" from the judge.
- All Crimes Are Equal: Not quite, but the series does take place in the time of the infamous "Bloody Code", which prescribed the sentence of death for no less than 220 crimes, some of them truly bizarre to modern ears (stealing horses? spending a month in the company of Gypsies?). As a result, the stakes are often rather higher for Garrow's clients than they would be in modern times, even discounting the other impediments.
- Arranged Marriage: Arthur and Sarah Hill have an establishment marriage, but they do seem genuinely fond of each other...at least until Garrow shows up and starts causing trouble galore.
- Birds of a Feather: Garrow and Lady Sarah both care deeply about matters of justice, share a certain disregard for matters of convention, and enjoy scandalizing the toffs with witty turns of phrase and a wicked sense of humor. Their disparate classes and backgrounds (and the fact that she's married), aren't enough to overcome this affinity."We are of a common mind about this world."
- Bounty Hunter: Thief takers. At the time, Britain had very few public police, so most crimes were investigated and "solved" by thief takers for reward money. The series shows the problems with this, since successful thief takers often became so through falsely accusing and framing people to get such rewards. In reality, some were even crime bosses themselves who returned people's property that their own minions stole to get paid for it. The one in the series frames a man on a theft charge and is indicated to regularly do this, but thankfully he's exposed for perjury with the innocent defendant acquitted.
- British Brevity: Each of the show's three series consists of four one-hour episodes.
- But I Would Really Enjoy It: Sarah and Garrow decide morality demands, "We cannot have..." "...What we crave," but only after talking about how "exquisite" it would be.
- Catchphrase: "MR. GARROW!" Delivered by the judge Once an Episode.
- Deadpan Snarker: There are few characters in the show who don't toss off a dry, snarky quip, but Silvester is possibly the snarkiest of all."Are you familiar with the phenomenon of cutlery?"
- Death of a Child: The first episode is mostly taken up with a maid accused of murdering her new born baby. She's innocent, but the baby's just as dead.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Discussed and then Defied by Garrow after his duel with Silvester.
- Emergency Authority: One episode drops the anvil that emergency powers are often preserved long after the emergency ceases when Garrow defends someone who is being prosecuted under emergency laws even though they really shouldn't apply.
- Eternal Sexual Freedom: In the episode where Garrow defends a man charged with sodomy; the man faces the death penalty, but Garrow does not appear to be fazed at all when the man reveals to him that he is guilty of the crime. In reality, though at the time a few reformers (for instance utilitarian Jeremy Bentham) were sympathetic to gay people (but even he had kept those views private because of the opprobrium) Garrow wasn't known as among them-it's more probable he'd have a very negative view, like most people in those days.
- Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Usually the case, but subverted when Garrow defends a rapist, and a deleted scene from series 2, where a highwayman robbing their carriage hands Garrow back his valuables in thanks for getting him off last time.
- Hanging Judge: All judges at the time, but Buller is slightly more flexible than Varley or Kenyon.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Garrow, while an influential reformer, was hardly the paragon of virtue portrayed in the show. He was more than happy to prosecute a more radical reformer for high treason (in the case off which the fourth episode is based).
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Lord Melville, who really was impeached for misuse of public funds and did actually work to prevent the abolition of slavery is the closest thing the show has to a Big Bad and is presented as leading a Government Conspiracy which has involvement in every corrupt practice challenged by Garrow.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Andrew Buchan is over six feet tall, while Lyndsey Marshal is pocket-sized. The result is that Garrow towers over Lady Sarah, even when she's wearing her most ginormous hat.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy - Taken pretty literally by Garrow in reference to Sarah."I wish you well in your happiness."
- Incurable Cough of Death - Southouse falls ill with "prison fever" (contracted from visits to Newgate Gaol) in Season 3, Episode 2, and dies in the following episode.
- Inherent in the System: A lot of the drama comes from this, and the main characters' attempts to CHANGE that system.
- Kangaroo Court: This is Truth in Television. 18th Century British law was terrible, cruel and arbitrary, especially for the poor. Judges would breeze through dozens of cases before lunch, handing down death sentences for minor offenses (which in fairness was in fact the statutory penalty at the time). The real-life William Garrow helped change that.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Forrester seems to be a composite of the notorious thief-takers Jonathan Wild and Charles Hitchen. Forrester's notoriety, crimes, and circumstances of his exposure recall that of Wild, who similarly employed criminals to steal items which their unsuspecting owners would buy back from him. Wild was likewise known for turning in his employees to the authorities when they had outlived their usefulness, and experienced his downfall when he was caught receiving stolen goods (and hanged). Forrester's fate (see Stock Punishment below) recalls that of Hitchen, who was sentenced to the pillory (for sodomy, not his thief-taking activities) for one hour and despite wearing armor, was beaten so severely that his health was permanently compromised (in contrast to the fictional Forrester, who dies). Also, while the circumstances were common enough, the despicable nobleman whom Garrow defends on a charge for raping a servant seems to derive from Franics Charteris who similarly got away with raping his maid, Anne Bond.
- The Perry Mason Method: Nearly all of Garrow's cases involve his winning by exposing the guilt of another party- sometimes the actual perpetrator, sometimes a corrupt accuser, and sometimes a party acting behind the scenes. Justified in that courts at the time did not follow/put stock in the doctrine of presumption of innocence (the real Garrow actually coined the term "presumed innocent until proven guilty") and the modern adversarial system didn't exist, and so a defense attorney effectively had to prove their client's innocence (or someone else's guilt).
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Some of the Courtroom Antics would be laughable in a modern drama. But as the adversarial system itself was an Unbuilt Trope at the time, barristers like Garrow and Thomas Erskine could get away with some serious theatricality, and it was up to the judge how much he'd put up with.
- Recycled INSPACE: This series can be seen as Rumpole of the Bailey In The Georgian Period! (Plus an ongoing love story...)
- Sadistic Choice:
- Lady Sarah is given the opportunity to have her baby son returned to her. If she doesn't take this chance, she may never see him again, and the child may grow up with a father who "wishes him not". All she has to do is sign a paper that would damn the man she loves (Garrow) into financial, professional and personal ruin from which he could never hope to recover, as punishment for something he didn't do.
- There's another example in Series 3, where the nobleman sponsoring Lady Sarah's husband promises to force him to hand over her son - just as long as Garrow doesn't use his current case to condemn the even worse judicial system of Britain's overseas colonies.
- Sleazy Politician: Sir Arthur starts the series as a member of Parliament for a rotten borrough, and regularly and increasingly abandons his principals for political advancement.
- Slut-Shaming: When Garrow agrees to defend a rapist, he does so by discrediting the accuser, largely by providing evidence of/accusing her of sexual promiscuity. Sarah condemns him for this, leading him to point out that he had also done this to a significant extent in his defense of Renwick Williams, and she didn't have a problem with that (due to the sympathetic defendant and unsympathetic accuser).
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Most conversations between Garrow and Silvester have this quality.
- Stock Punishment: In an entirely serious example of this trope, Garrow exposes Forrester, a professional "thief-taker" - basically a man who is paid to fit people up - as a perjurer. The judge sentences him to two hours in the stocks - a pillory in this case. He gets the rotten fruit treatment, then we see the grandmother of the boy he murdered as part of one such scheme pay the man who turned on him. The man then throws a rock... This, as with practically everything else in the series, is Truth in Television; unpopular people put in the stocks faced a real risk of being beaten to death by angry mobs. Some people even wore armor when in the stocks in order to avoid this. Forrester doesn't survive.
- In one episode, Garrow rebuts a charge of forced sodomy by showing the accused and accuser were lovers, and the two are reconciled in the process. The accuser is sentenced to two years imprisonment for perjury, allowing his lover to visit him regularly.
- In its verdict in the criminal conversation suit brought by Sir Arthur against Garrow, the jury shows their contempt for Sir Arthur by ruling in his favor but only fining Garrow a shilling as opposed to the ten thousand pounds that Sir Arthur had sought.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Garrow and Sarah, pretty much from day one.
- "No, I have not THAT fever."
- The scene where she hands him a glass of water in court. Pure eye sex.
- What the Hell, Hero?: In spades. When Garrow does something questionable, people invariably call him out on it.
- After Garrow loses a case early in his career, his temper gets the better of him, and in his outburst he all but dares the judge to commit him for contempt of court. Judge Buller imperiously tells him to sit down and shut up.
- The exemplar: Garrow defends a slime ball who raped his maid by quietly gaining the girl's confidence on the stand, and then painting her to the jury as "a strumpet and a drunk". He handily wins the case, and we see that he feels guilty about it. Not as guilty as he does after Lady Sarah lays the verbal smackdown on him for it.
- He follows this idiocy up with a decision he himself later calls "rash" and "asinine," and the other characters, along with the writer himself, take great pains to show how stupid he's being, and to make him pay for it.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Garrow, at least at first. He gets his Break the Haughty moments (getting taunted and then shot by his rival) AND Break the Cutie moments (failing his 12-year-old client, thereby earning the boy a death sentence), which give his idealism a bit of shade.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The real Garrow started practicing law at 23 years old (though he is portrayed by Andrew Buchan, thirty years old in the first series), by which time Sarah (who was eight years older than him) had already given birth to their first child. She was also probably never married to Arthur Hill, and their son was called William Arthur, not Samuel. The cases from the show are almost all real, but slightly tweaked, and Garrow was not involved with most of them at all. An exception is the treason case in episode 1x04, in which Garrow was actually the prosecutor, and the Thomas Picton case, series 3x03, where he actually was the prosecutor in both the series and real life.