Mark Pallis, Legal and Historical Consultant to “Garrow’s Law”, on how he has used his legal background to good effect
The origins for “Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey”, shown on BBC One in November 2009, date back to April 2008. Having tried for several months to get some human rights type programmes off the ground (the feedback from channels was “Great and worthwhile idea, but I think I’ll pass on it”), I was asked to come up with ideas for a legal drama based on real people, real events and real cases. The time period I was given was broadly 1600 to 1900. I was drawn to the late 1700s because they were a time of change: the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, the beginning of the campaigns for the rights of man, to end slavery and to reform Parliament. Legally, it was it was a time of great change too. On the very front lines of this, dealing with the cut and thrust, and dirt and grime of the Old Bailey, I found the barrister William Garrow. There was very little information about his personal life. In his professional life, Garrow fought to give a bigger role for defence counsel in criminal cases. He had an incredible number of credits to his name, but somehow he missed out on his place in history. This seemed crazy given that he was the first person recorded as saying “Every man shall be innocent until proven guilty” in an English court, and because, by virtue of the sheer force of his personality, he practically singlehandedly invented the modern form of harsh and penetrating cross-examination. Coupled with the fact that he had a “somewhat irregular”’ relationship with the wife of an MP I thought I’d struck drama gold.