We have previously looked at Prisoners Wives, and noted that despite the trashy headline, it was actually pretty accurate.
The Law and Order franchise is good drama. It is not accurate drama. That’s not of itself an issue (real life law is often very, very dull) but it does appear to sell itself on the basis of accuracy.
We’ve had a write up of this episode as it’s being aired. We will probably come back and edit it (and add in what is some interesting legal points) in the next day or so. Apologies for any errors.
Plot Outline (including spoilers)
Jenny Moran, an 83 year old woman is found dead in her flat. There’s a bit of bruising and a silver carriage clock is missing. Is it a robbery that goes wrong , or something else? There’s a carer, Cecile who’s gone missing (and she’s an overstayer, and a history of stealing – well stealing boyfriends at least)
Then the plot twists (a lot happens in an hour). It seems that the grieving granddaughter sacked Cecile for stealing things from her). But then the clock turns up and it seems that Cecile and her boyfriend pawned it. Bad for Cecile, who gets taken down the station.
Cecile then says that the Granddaughter (Connie) sacked her for not letting Jenny starve (and fortunately was arrested with evidence of that in her pocket). So the police go and ask her about it. Connie passes the blame on to the medical profession – yes, she did feed her as alleged, but it was doctors orders.
The Doctor batted it back to Connie. A bit of a dead end, but the police then follow the money. It turns out that Connie wasn’t get to get any money from her grandmother’s death, but that was because she was joint tenants of the flat – and now she owns it all. Couple that with a lie as to when she went in and the fact that she’s cleared her debts and she’s nicked for murder.
It all then kicks off with various discussions between the defence and prosecution, and among the ‘prosecution team. The long and short is the CPS then decided to have a crack at murder.
So. We go to trial. It starts off with lots of expert evidence about kidney failure. Then it turns out that the kindly neighbour borrowed money from the Victim and didn’t pay it back! And Cecile, the next witness, is being deported!!
Cecile comes in to the CPS office and it’s all smoothed over. But the defence smell a rat and go in hard. That may have been a mistake, because the police investigate and it was Connie who shopped Cecile!!! This only comes out in evidence when Connie is cross-examined. At which point, Connie pulls her own rabbit out of the hat – Jenny Moran, the Victim, actually starved herself do death voluntarily as she was in pain.
Connie Moran is found Not Guilty at the end of the trial (which was pretty inevitable on the evidence that we saw). Which is lucky for her, as if she had been convicted she would have been looking at life with a minimum term of over 30 years.
What’s not accurate?
We’re going to concentrate on the legal and Court part of it (but with a few points about the investigation) –
The investigation :
- The first time law enters is at the police interview. The solicitor behaves in a way that would get him thrown out of the police station in real life. A legal representative shouldn’t be answering questions in the way he did.
- We first see a Prosecutor half way through when she pops in for a chat with the police. While the CPS now have the charging decision, if you ask any police officer then the chance of getting CPS advice is a mammoth task (although it may be different in a murder, it’s not going to be that different)
- The Prosecutor doesn’t seem to know much about the law – she appears to think that there’s an offence of ‘death by omission’. Fortunately, there’s police officer to say ‘or murder’.
- Then the defence lawyer comes in for a consultation with the prosecuting advocates. This is now off into the realms of the fantasy – you would never get this.
- The Chief Prosecutor is also not a great lawyer – he seems to thing that talking about causation is ‘muddying the waters’,
In Court :
- Where there are two advocates, then don’t sit side by side as the two prosecutors do
- The defence advocate who popped up to say ‘Leading, My Lord’ and make a short speech (more than once) would have been told to sit down. If there is a problem we don’t (sadly) as they do on American TV jump up and down and object.
- Jenny Moran’s consultant was far too smart. I doubt any expert witness would give evidence in such a cocky manner.
- We will let slide the defence advocate’s slightly aggressive questioning – this is TV after all!
- The CPS wouldn’t give the Home Office a call and haul Cecile of a flight (they would technically have to apply for a writ of habeas corpus ad tesitficandum)
- The question from the main prosecutor “did I or anyone else in the CPS lean on you to give evidence” would lead to the jury being sent out and a massive bollocking – he’s basically giving evidence, which absolutely is not allowed.
- Last minute evidence is good drama, but certainly not allowed. The Criminal Procedure Rules should have put an end to that. Had the prosecutor pulled this rabbit about Connie’s phone records out of the hat it would have lead to another bollocking and possibly the jury being discharged with a wasted costs order against the CPS.
Most accurate moment?
Slightly paraphrased, but
Prosecutor 1 – “let’s have a bash at murder”
Prosecutor 2 – “but we haven’t got any evidence”
Prosecutor 1 – “oh well, shove it in front of a jury and let them decide”.
Factual accuracy – 3/10
Drama – 7/10
The problem with watching a legal drama as a lawyer is that the mistakes stand out. Some programmes (notably Silk) do manage to combine drama with a basic accuracy (and when it isn’t accurate, is well written enough to overlook). Law & Order, whilst good fun, isn’t in that category. I’ll still watch it though …