At first glance, the term Habeas Corpus might seem a bit Latin and dull, but in fact, the Habeas Corpus Act, which became law in Britain this day in 1679, was a revolutionary piece of legislation that prevented people from being thrown in prison without just cause. At its core, the Act “demands that a prisoner be taken before the court, and that the custodian present proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether the custodian has lawful authority to detain the prisoner.” (Thank you Wikipedia.) In other words, everyone has the right to a fair trial.
I think that deserves a blog post — and a nod to some classic courtroom dramas. (I will say up front that there are lots more good ones that aren’t here — from A Few Good Men to Witness for the Prosecution; there are too many to include in one post.)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Where to begin with To Kill a Mockingbird? This was one of the very few books I read in high-school English that I enjoyed, and then later when I saw the film, I was blown away. This is a pivotal scene in the movie, where we see alleged rape victim Mayella Ewing on the stand being questioned by Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44TG_H_oY2E (3 min, 29 sec)
Twelve Angry Men (1957) This is the granddaddy of courtroom movies. It stars Henry Fonda as the one doubting juror who’s just not sure a young Puerto Rican man accused of murder is guilty. The whole cast is a 1950s Hollywood who’s who, and this scene is especially telling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUzp2XUhskY (2 min, 32 sec)
The Verdict (1982) The Verdict is one of my favourite movies of any kind, which makes it my number-one courtroom drama. Paul Newman is SO DAMNED GOOD as a washed up, ambulance-chasing, alcoholic lawyer who gets a chance to turn his career around when he’s handed a case of medical negligence — in Boston, where the alleged negligence involves the city’s preeminent Catholic hospital. (Okay, now I’ve gotta go watch it.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Asm-9UXAOog (2 min, 40 sec)
Silk (BBC series) If you’re a fan of any kind of British drama, chances are you’ve watched Silk. It aired from 2011 to 2014, and was on Netflix for awhile — you can now buy it on YouTube. The term ‘silk’ refers to the gowns worn by Queen’s Counsel lawyers in the U.K. — Queen’s Counsel is a merit-based designation awarded to lawyers by their peers. This excellent TV series follows the lives of the lawyers in a busy London practice vying to ‘take silk’. Along the way, there’s lots of politics, intrigue, love, sex — and that’s outside the courtroom. Here’s a clip released before it aired on PBS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbxna_YAR_I (1 min, 20 sec)
Law & Order I think I spent the 1990s either watching Law & Order, getting ready to watch it, or just having finished watching it. And in fact, I went into labour with my daughter while watching it. (Sitting in bed… a warm July night… trying to get comfortable… watching Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach do their thing… and suddenly I’m wondering if I have a bladder issue. Turns out it wasn’t my bladder….) Here, I’ve posted just the theme song, because it’s such a cool, memory-inducing tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbEgjPS73fE (1 min, 16 sec)