The Strange Case Of The Law

9:00pm Wednesday 4 July on BBC FOUR

The conclusion of the three-part series, in which barrister Harry Potter recounts the remarkable story of English justice.

Although England had a well-developed legal system by the 19th century, the trial process was stacked against the defendant. Crimes such as theft or damage to property could be punishable by death, trials were often over in minutes and most defendants had no one to put their case to, other than the judge himself.

In this final programme Harry explores the incredible transformation that enshrined fairness in English court procedure and put the defence on an equal footing with the prosecution. It was a change shaped by seismic shifts in English society, from the Industrial Revolution to the rise of the popular press.

Above all, it saw the emergence of the courtroom drama’s star turn – the defence barrister. Harry’s journey involves spies, forgery, fraud and murder – and a visit to the set of popular BBC drama, Garrow’s Law.

Ep 3/3

9:00pm Wednesday 27 June on BBC FOUR

Barrister Harry Potter continues the remarkable story of English justice.

Many of the rights and freedoms often taken for granted today were forged during the turbulent 17th and 18th centuries, when courageous men used the law to challenge tyranny and the abuse of power.

In this episode Harry relives the struggles and achievements of these extraordinary figures, including a barrister who risked assassination and eternal damnation to put the king of England on trial for his crimes against the people; a civil rights activist who was banished to Oliver Cromwell’s equivalent of Guantanamo Bay; and a pillar of the establishment whose radical judgment rocked the slave trade, triggering its ultimate abolition.

Ep 2/3

9:00pm Wednesday 20 June on BBC FOUR

In his first television series, barrister Harry Potter tells the remarkable story of English justice for BBC Four. As an ordained priest in the Church of England, Harry spent eight years as a prison chaplain. He then trained as a barrister, was called to the Bar in 1993, and works exclusively in criminal defence.

Harry is a published author, with articles on prisons and criminal justice; a book on the history of capital punishment and two books on Scottish History. Harry was born and brought up in Glasgow.

Harry says: “As a Scot I may be said to have a dispassionate view of English Law, although it gratifies me to note that England’s greatest judge – Lord Mansfield – and her greatest barrister – Thomas Erskine, were Scottish too. The story of English Law is one about which we can all be proud. It is an important aspect of our national history, a boon we have given the world, and has been largely one which has ensured liberty and justice in equal measure, the two greatest attributes of civilisation.

“The English Common Law is anything but common. It is unique and peculiar to this country, growing out of the specifics of her history, and enshrining all that is best in our culture.”

English Common Law, with its emphasis on the role of the jury, set a standard of fairness that has influenced legal systems across the world. Many of the features that characterise today’s courts were in place by as early as the 14th century and in this three-part series, Harry looks at how England came to have such a distinctive and enduring justice system.

In this first episode, Harry explores the rise of ‘trial by ordeal’ where painful and dangerous physical tests were used to determine guilt or innocence. He shows how systems of religious ‘proof’ came to be replaced by jury trial, explains why Henry II’s attempt to unify law in England led to murder in Canterbury Cathedral, and takes a revealing look at the most famous legal document in history, the Magna Carta.

Ep 1/3

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