Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's a Dirty World in Chambers But Someone's Got to Do It...

(thanks to BBC)

I've been away in Switzerland recently but managed to catch to catch episode 5 of Silk. How can I dislike and like a TV show so much? But this one brings out the schizophrenia in me. (My blog posts are now linked into the BBC web page for the programme!)

Episode 5 gave us the light and dark, the good and evil, neatly reversed, just in case we missed the symbolism. Billy, the senior clerk (second from right above), is suspected of embezzling thousands of pounds from chambers' accounts. He's white, from Essex, an all-round diamond geezer.

Kate, a black barrister, with her accomplice, John, the black junior clerk, hack into Billy's computer to find the evidence of his (alleged) defalcation. Despite having the figures, Kate can't persuade either Martha or Clive--our QC wannabes--to jump on board.

We don't know yet if Billy has been a bad boy. Somehow I feel uneasy at the use of racial stereotyping to denote goodness and badness this way. It's an easy trigger to pull to whip up the emotions. We shall have to see how this plays out.

There are other aspects of this programme that deserves attention since they've been raised in the comments at johnflood.com. One is the cab rank rule which is one of the holiest shibboleths trotted out by the Bar every time it faces criticism.

The idea is that any barrister will take any case that comes along just as any London or New York taxi driver will pick up any fare. After that sentence you know where I'm going with this. The cab rank rule is one of the biggest con tricks ever pulled. Anyone at the Bar knows how easy it is to evade the "rule". Even the Office of Fair Trading could find no evidence for it. And you only have to watch the barristers on Silk itself squirm there way out doing cases--"Oh, you promised to keep the day free for me, Billy!"

Another issue is the apparent lack of conflict of interest when two barristers from the same set of chambers appear on oppisite sides of a case. In episode 5 we see Martha feeding lines in an attempted murder case to defence counsel who also happens to be a member of Shoe Lane Chambers. And this takes place even though there's a Chinese Wall between them in Chambers.

But, of course, it's acceptable because it is in the higher interests of justice. "You're not there to win or lose, but just present the facts."

I know I'm going to keep watching and squirming: liking and disliking: resigned and irritated. So be it, only three more episodes to go. I wonder if there'll be a second series?
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