Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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Garrow’s Law

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | May 14, 2011

No. 617





GARROW’S LAW, is a gripping legal drama, which has appeared on the BBC, set in late 18th Century. It is a fictionalized account of the early career of Barrister William Garrow, who flaunted  convention by  his        vigorous and confrontational questioning of witnesses. Garrow arrived in an era that did not tolerate barristers confronting and accusing witnesses or being otherwise disagreeable.  He is credited by singlehandedly changing that custom  by example.

The series begins with Garrow’s first case, one he loses, but not without displaying a skill in unconventional cross-examination that  would become his trademark.  While giving all to the defense of his client, he is very nearly locked up and barred from the court by a testy Judge, Sir Francis Buller, another real historical figure.  Although Buller continuously harasses Garrow from the bench and instructs the jury in a fashion calculated to insure a conviction, he becomes intrigued by the admissions that Garrow pulls out of hostile witnesses and slowly develops a grudging respect for this unconventional advocate.

These episodes are worth watching simply as historical drama, with authentic costumes and settings and well-researched scripts.  They create a memorable tableaux of the energetic bustle of criminal trials in the Old Bailey during a very different era, but shedding light on the origins of the present, as all good historical fiction does. However, lawyers (or at least some of us) will find Garrow’s skillful questioning of witnesses to be of equal importance.  He is always aware of the jury and makes untruthful witnesses admit the truth with their face.

When Garrow confronts a witness with a key document that turns out to be two blank sheets of paper, he incurs the wrath of Judge Buller who “will have no such tricks in my courtroom.”  But Garrow explains that the jury has nevertheless seen the witness’s face and knows the truth.

In another case, he demolishes the prosecution’s medical expert,  by demonstrating that (1) this doctor  had little practical experience in assisting childbirth, (2) had never encountered the specific situation presented in the case, (3) didn’t recognize the surgeon’s tool used to cut an umbilical cord wrapped around the infant’s neck  and, in the coupe de grace, (4) confronting him with a passage from an authoritative medical treatise that the witness cannot refute.

More than once, when a prosecuting witness cannot recall his or her own conflicting testimony from the preliminary hearing before the magistrate, Garrow chides the witness to do better, since a life is at stake.  Then, by a gradual line of questions, Garrow forcibly refreshes the witness’s recollection and extracts the key admission.

Unfortunately, there are only four one hour episodes of this gem available, with another series in production.  May there be many more.  Check for Garrow’s Law on Netflicks.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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