Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Garrow's Law Series 3 (2012 DVD)

Like the actor Andrew Buchan, who played William Garrow, I had never heard of this ground-breaking English barrister until Acorn Media asked me to review Series 3 of the "Garrow's Law" DVD that was just released by them.

Buchan and his fellow cast members, Alun Armstrong who plays Garrow's mentor, Thomas Southouse, and Lyndsey Marshal, who plays Garrow's love interest, Sarah Dore Hill, did such a marvelous job of bringing these vibrant people to life that I added the first two Series to my Netflix queue since I had never viewed them either and dove into my research to learn more about this period of history in which the legal system we share with the English evolved so radically from prosecutions lasting an average of only 8 minutes that were little better than courtroom brawls.

Andrew Buchan (center) as 18th century barrister
William Garrow
In an interview with the BBC, Buchan pointed out that most of Garrow's early cases were conducted in a mob-like atmosphere.

"The juries were loud and bawdy and would throw insults at witnesses as they passed. When Garrow comes into that arena he provokes one of two reactions – either absolute shock at what he is saying, as no-one has previously been questioned in that manner, or a real reaction to the fact he said a lot of unthinkable things." - Andrew Buchan, BBC Interview 

In fact, as I watched the DVD, I was surprised by the aggresiveness of the opposing lawyers and the lack of interference by the judge.  Apparently, the formal procedure of objecting and abstaining was not yet implemented then.  However, I found in my research, this raucous environment was accurately captured by the screenplay.

"A contemporary, Thomas Hague, described him [William Garrow] as pert, vulgar and garrulous, saying that the 'brutal insolence' and 'wanton scurrility' he employed in cross-examining witnesses 'wounded private feelings, insulted the dignity of the court and violated public decorum; more important, it tended to upset the ends of justice.' Such sentiments are, no doubt, exaggerated since Hague was bitterly hostile to Garrow and prone to hyperbole.  Nonetheless, Garrow could, on occasion, be too aggressive and too insensitive." - John Hostettler and Richard Braby, Sir William Garrow: his Life, Times and Fight for Justice.

I also found the cases tried in these four episodes provided interesting insight into the social fabric of life in 18th century England.

King George III (in coronation robes)
King George III (in coronation robes) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The first case involved James Hadfield who feigned an attempt on the life of King George III  so Hadfield could be shot to death by his majesty's guards.  Hadfield, who believed that the second coming of Jesus Christ could be accelerated if he himself were killed by the British Government, fired a pistol in the direction of the King's royal box at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  When Hadfield wasn't shot by the King's guards but captured and held for trial, he was assigned to Garrow who presented a defense based on a new interpretation of legal insanity.

Historically, this case was actually defended by Thomas Erskine, a contemporary of William Garrow.  At the time of the prosecution, British law defined legal insanity as  "lost to all sense … incapable of forming a judgement upon the consequences of the act which he is about to do".  But Hadfield's preparation for the assassination attempt seemed to discount this defense.  However, Erskine presented two surgeons and a physician that all testified Hadfield's delusions were the result of saber-inflicted head injuries he suffered at the Battle of Tourcoing in 1794 and asked the jury to redefine legal insanity as  suffering from delusions "unaccompanied by frenzy or raving madness [as] the true character of insanity".  This new definition, of course, was politically sensitive at the time as the case was tried during the reign of so-called "Mad" King George III.  The film appropriately touched on this briefly.

In this episode, I was also surprised when Garrow visited an institution for the insane and actually found the facility headed apparently by a physician knowledgeable about psychological imbalances.  I expected such a facility during this time to be little more than a cesspit.   However, during this period, the infamous Bethlem Mental Hospital, that had gained notoriety for the brutal treatment of its inmates, had been moved to new buildings and medical minds of the day had even discerned that some cases were treatable.  With this new medical interpretation, curable and incurable wards opened in 1725-1734.  However, people still went to Bedlam to view the "freaks" for a penny with records indicating 96,000 such visits in 1814, well after Hadfield was permanently incarcerated at Bethlem after being found criminally not guilty - technically a legal victory but with a very bad outcome for the defendant in the long run.

In episode 2, Garrow is charged with defending two Spitalfields silk weavers who took part in a violent demonstration against wealthy silk manufacturers where silk looms were destroyed.  Of course this case is based on activities that occurred during the Spitalfields Riots in 1769 but supposedly took place years after that.  In fact, during Garrow's passionate cross examination of a master weaver, Garrow accuses him of being paid for testimony in the original prosecution of the two men who were actually tried and executed for activities during the Spitalfields Riots.    Garrow quotes one of the real earlier defendant's recorded final statement of innocence delivered from the scaffold.

" I John Doyle do hereby declare, as my last dying words in the presence of my Almighty God, that I am as innocent of the fact I am now to die for as the child unborn. Let my blood lie to that wicked man who has purchased it with gold, and them notorious wretches who swore it falsely away." John Doyle before execution for activities during The Spitalfields Riots by David Wilkie, The LawMentor.

This shed quite a bit of light onto strategies used by the wealthy to perpetrate prosecutions for their own political and financial gain and clearly showed the Draconian nature of English law at the time as property destruction was considered a capital offense.

This case also revealed the impact of industrialization as early as the Georgian Age when most of us think of the industrial revolution associated with the Victorian era.  One of the silk weavers points out that since the introduction of machines his salary had dropped from 2 guineas (42 shillings) to only 3 shillings a week.

There was also an over supply of weavers as Irish weavers fled to England when the Irish linen industry declined.  History tells us the situation was further exacerbated by a depression in the silk market caused by the importation of French silk and printed calicos during this period.

Garrow, in an effort to save his remaining defandant after one of the defendants turned King's evidence, sought to sway the jury by appealing to their sense of justice rather than return a verdict based on the dictates of the prevailing law.

In a fit of brilliance and either self-confidence or foolhardiness, Garrow embarked upon a last ditch, do or die attempt to sway the jury by pulling at their heart strings to persuade them to return a 'perverse' verdict (yes it is surprising what we can learn from dramatisations), by finding the defendant not guilty against all the evidence. It worked, and the foreman of the jury, despite what some might have seen as an attempt by Judge Buller to bully the jury by allowing them hardly any time to deliberate and by saying there was nothing to consider - meaning that the defendant was guilty, uttered the words 'not guilty'.  -  David Wilkie, The LawMentor.

In addition to insight into the Spitalfields Riots and the silk trade, I found this case particularly interesting because I had very much enjoyed another miniseries about the cloth weaving industry in England, "North and South" starring one of my favorite British actors, Richard Armitage, although it was about the operation of cotton mills in the Victorian era rather than silk mills in the Georgian era.

In Episode 3, we get a chance to see Garrow prosecute the notorious first British governor of Trinidad, Thomas Picton, who, with a viewpoint of "let them hate so long as they fear", sanctioned torture and murder to eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his provincial government.  This case was actually prosecuted by the real William Garrow in February, 1806.

Lt. General Sir Thomas Picton

Garrow is aided in his efforts by William Fullarton who was appointed to a commission sent to Trinidad to govern after it was decided to retain it as a British possession.

"A fellow colonial administrator, Colonel William Fullarton, initiated the proceedings against Picton. In summer 1802, the administration of Henry Addington had removed Picton as governor of Trinidad and replaced him with a three-man commission headed by Fullarton, with Picton retained as second commissioner and Commodore Samuel Hood appointed as third commissioner. Fullarton and Picton soon clashed bitterly over matters of colonial administration, policy, and personal style. Picton was a strong proponent of developing Trinidad's plantation economy; his own speculations in land and slaves amounted to a small fortune.31 In this he was out of step with British government plans for Trinidad. Lord Hobart, secretary for war and the colonies, who was connected to Fullarton through former service in India, turned to the colonel as an agent of reform. Fullarton's concept of imperial responsibility had been forged at an earlier moment of imperial crisis; he had served as a military commander during the Second Mysore War, as an opponent of Warren Hastings and a friend of Edmund Burke.  Whereas Picton was a Welshman who had begun his military career at age thirteen, Fullarton was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment. Following his studies at Edinburgh University, he served as secretary to the British embassy in Paris; at age twenty-six, he entered Parliament; and as a fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, he authored works on agricultural improvement in Scotland and military reform in India.  The conflict between Picton and Fullarton, and among their supporters, produced a minor pamphlet war, along with a series of libel cases. Although Privy Council's hearings were held in camera, Fullarton ensured that documents presented at Whitehall found their way into print.  The chaos of the Caribbean, and rivalries born there, spread to the imperial core." - James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon, The American Historical Review 
Before the trial, both Picton's supporters and Fullarton's adherents waged a pamphlet war trying to influence potential jurors and officers of the court.  Fullarton's supporters even sold engravings of a personable 14-year-old mulatto girl being trussed up and tortured in a state of semi-undress that were enthusiastically purchased by the British public.  Fullarton was literally breathing down Garrow's neck to convict Picton but the King's court justice, Lord Ellenborough and other aristocrats in the room had large investments in the West Indies that could be jeopardized by a guilty verdict even though the torture charge was deemed only a misdemeanor.  (Punishments during this period seemed wildly disconnected to the seriousness of the crime.  People were being executed for stealing a hankerchief while those accused of atrocities while serving in the government are only charged with misdemeanors.)

"Three background points need to be made. First, the West Indies were of crucial financial and military importance to Britain and France.16 The scale of economic commitment was staggering.17 The West Indies dominated British long-distance trade; an eighth of all British seamen were involved in this trade.18 It followed that the Caribbean was an endemic and deadly zone of war and plunder.19 Second, not only were the West Indies the biggest depository of British and French investment overseas, they were also the most vulnerable. A small number of whites—the Privy Council in 1789 reported 50,000 in all the British islands—lived alongside more than 10,000 free men and women of color and nearly a half-million slaves.20 This vulnerability was exacerbated by war and revolution; the French Revolution's universalist message of libertĂ© combined with indigenous forces of resistance among slaves, free people of color, and creole Europeans as rebellion swept the Caribbean.21 Third, Trinidad was something of a special case. The island's plantation economy and the large-scale importation of African slaves were very recent, connected predominantly with newly arrived sugar planters who moved from neighboring French islands following the cĂ©dula of 1783, which reversed Spain's policy of exclusion and opened the island to foreign settlement. Previously a Spanish backwater, Trinidad overnight became an open frontier. Between 1784 and 1797, the slave population rose from just under 2,500 to just over 10,000. There was also a relatively large population of free persons of color (4,476), who outnumbered whites." -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 

The prosecution centered around a young mulatto woman named Louisa Calderon.  In the film, she is portrayed as an alluring adult.  In reality, Louisa was only 14 at the time she was tortured.  By the time the case came to trial, Calderon was 16.

Louisa, now aged around sixteen, was the star witness. In a typical newspaper report, the Sun found that "Her appearance was extremely interesting, and her countenance, which was that of a Mulatto, extremely pre-possessing and agreeable." Other reports added that she was "dressed in white, with a turban tied on in the costume of the country.  -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
The type of torture she endured was called "piqueting".  It was a type of military torture where the accused is suspended then forced to stand on a wooden spike. The historical Calderon endured one session of 53-54 minutes and another session of 24 minutes.

The "piquet" torture of Louisa Calderon

"Asked to give an account of her torture, 'she accompanied her explanation by placing herself in the attitude she so described,' demonstrating how she was bound by the wrist to the pulley ('the left-hand, raising her'), with her right hand tied to her left ankle and her right foot lowered onto the spike. Garrow next showed her 'a drawing in water colours ... representing in striking manner her situation with the executioner and his attendants during the application of the torture.' She confirmed that it was an accurate representation... Suffering from excruciating pain in her side and wrist and from a badly swollen foot, she was placed in irons (the 'grillos') in a crouching position between sessions."  -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
The TV producers must have decided this type of torture was not graphic enough so they showed her suspended and forced to stand on the tip of a spear point.

Garrow cites a shocking list of other atrocities recorded as commonplace on Trinidad under Picton's administration.

"Among other crimes that remained under investigation, Picton was accused of having burned alive, decapitated, and brutally executed slaves suspected of practicing the black arts, necromancy, and casting spells, results of the so-called "poisoning" commission appointed by Picton around the same time that Calderon was arrested. Most serious, at least for the privy councillors, was the charge that he had hanged without court-martial a young artillery soldier, Hugh Gallagher, accused of having raped and robbed a free woman of color."  -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
But the real legal point was whether the colony, which was still the subject of peace negotiations at the time (later included in the provisions of the Peace of Amiens), was operating under Spanish law which Picton maintained permitted torture or under British law which did not.

"At issue was the Spanish law as it was to be administered in Trinidad; a British court was required to interpret Spanish legal practice. Dallas described the island as a site of social chaos, explaining that it had become a receptacle for every description of undesirable and dangerous refugee from other islands. Picton was 'no civilian'; a rough man of war, he had been entrusted with maintaining order amid colonial chaos. As for the form of torture itself, Dallas sought to counter the image of inhumane practice, and Garrow's 'theatrical exhibition' of this practice. The mode of punishment inflicted on Calderon was exactly as described in 'any Dictionary of Arts and Sciences' under the term 'piquet.' Dallas noted, 'in this land of liberty which is proverbial for the humanity of its laws, the punishment of the piquet prevails; upon whom is it inflicted? upon those brave men who shed their best blood, and risk their lives in the service and for the defence of their country.' Moreover, Spain was notorious for its repertory of torture; set beside forms of Spanish cruelty, the piquet was a 'slight' punishment. The challenge was to settle the precise terms of Spanish law pertaining to judicial torture in the West Indies. It proved difficult to shake the prosecution's evidence that until Picton's arrival, no judicial torture had been practiced in Trinidad. A key witness for the defense was Archibald Gloster, Trinidad's attorney general. He was reduced to a figure of ridicule as it became clear, under Garrow's cross-examination, that he knew little about Spanish law; he even conceded his inability to read Spanish without the aid of a dictionary. The coup de grace was administered by Pedro de Vargas, who was called in rebuttal. A lawyer born in South America who had lived throughout the Spanish West Indies, he testified that he knew of no law that sanctioned torture." - James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
In his fiery summation, Garrow thundered  "he was an Englishman and governor of a British settlement" who should have asked himself what law, English or Spanish, "could justify him in making this unhappy creature his victim." It remained for the jury to do their duty as Britons to "protect those, who by the prowess of the British arms have become your fellow-subjects; and you will show the poorest individual in the territories of England has the opportunity of bringing his oppressor, however high his rank, to answer for his misconduct before a court of justice."

A jury, now sympathetic to the victim, returned a verdict of guilty but Picton's defense attorney immediately filed an appeal.  The case bounced back and forth in the courts until as late as 1812 but Picton was never sentenced.  Instead he was assigned to the military staff of the Duke of Wellington and was subsequently killed in action at the Battle of Waterloo.

"Picton is generally remembered not as a colonial governor but for his role in the Peninsular Campaign and as the highest-ranking officer killed at the Battle of Waterloo; his portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, and his heroic death is commemorated by a statue erected in St. Paul's Cathedral." - James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 

Picton's victim, Louisa Calderon, died in Trinidad, peniless, despite her brief fame in London.

The last of Garrow's cases on the Series 3 DVD involved defending a supporter of opposition leader Charles James Fox who was falsely accused of murder at a polling day riot. Approached by the victim's daughter, Garrow agrees to find and prosecute the real murderer putting himself in grave danger from the man's colleagues and a corrupt chief magistrate of the constabulary.

The actual case was tried on the 1st of June 1784.  There were four defendants and Garrow served with Thomas Erskine as well as a Mr. Fielding and Mr. Pigott as counsel for the defense.

This episode alludes to a relationship between famous radical Whig party leader Charles James Fox and William Garrow. Although they surely knew each other, the series timeline is a bit out of step with the historical timeline as this episode follows the prosecution of Picton that occurred in 1806 and by then Fox was a corpulent old man suffering from "hardening of the liver" (probably cirrhosis) after a life of excessive drinking and gambling.  Instead, Fox, portrayed by 32 year-old Blake Ritson, appears in his prime.  
Charles James Fox by Karl Anton Hickel

As leader of the Whigs, Fox was a  staunch opponent of George III, whom he regarded as an aspiring tyrant.  Fox also supported the American Patriots, even purposefully dressing in the navy blue and buff colours of George Washington's army.  He was an ardent anti-slavery campaigner, a supporter of the French Revolution, and a leading parliamentary advocate of religious tolerance and individual liberty.  This would have appealed to Garrow.  Garrow thought slavery was so repugnant that he once told a group of West Indies plantation owners who sought to commission him to handle their business affairs, " "if your committee would give me their whole incomes, and all their estates, I would not be seen as the advocate of practices which I abhor, and a system which I detest".

Garrow would go on to become a Whig member of parliament as his legal career evolved, but not until 1805, just a year before Fox's death.

This episode reveals the rough and tumble nature of British politics in the 18th century.  Voters were regularly intimidated and bribery and corruption were rampant.  In the film we see grim-faced constables wielding cudgels facing off against Fox supporters who have gathered outside the official polling place.  Although the film doesn't show the Fox supporters wielding any weapons, historically, there was a group of them deemed butchers  wielding meat cleavers and marrow bones.  However, according to the trial transcript, none of the "meat cleavers and marrow bones" were present when the victim was struck.  Instead the defense presented witnesses that recounted repeatedly that constables armed with "staves" were the only armed men at the scene of the murder.

Upon reading the trial transcript in the online archive of Old Bailey cases, I found the way the defense attorneys discredited the prosecution's witnesses to be rather humorous especially the testimony of one Josephus Roffey:

[Defense] Do you know Joseph [one of the key witnesses for the prosecution]? - [Roffey] Yes.

[Defense] What are you? - [Roffey] I am a shoe-maker by trade, and a patrol; I know him exceedingly well.

[Defense] What sort of a man is he as to his character? - [Roffey] He has an exceeding bad character.

[Defense] Would you believe him on his oath? - [Roffey] Not for a farthing.

[The chief prosecutor] Mr. Morgan : I can let you into a secret, he has just as good an opinion of you. -

[Roffey] That may be so, but I have a better opinion of myself than he has of himself.

All of these cases are presented over a background story of Garrow's love affair with Sarah Dore who had previously borne a son, William Arthur Dore Hill, to Arthur Hill, Viscount Fairford in 1778.  In retaliation, Sir Arthur Hill withheld the child from her when she left Hill and moved in with Garrow, claiming his legal right of paternity.  I must admit I was surprised by this as a law existing as late as the 18th century.  It must have been a carryover from Roman law, on which much of English law is based.  In ancient Rome, when a man and wife divorced, the custody of any children was always the right of the male as pater familias (the official head of household) of the family.  But I didn't realize the law still lingered so late in history.

I also discovered Garrow could have been charged by Hill for damages to his wife, who would have been considered Hill's property under 18th century law.  Such a high profile case actually happened during this time.  Sir Richard Worsley sought to recover £20,000 in damages (Equivalent to about $50 million today) from his wife's lover, Captain George Bisset.

"Captain Bisset defended the charges brought against him by claiming that Lady Worsley was simply not worth £20,000. In fact, he said, she was worth nothing! He alleged that Sir Richard had actively promoted Lady Worsley’s liaisons – not only with Captain Bisset but also with more than twenty other men during the couple’s six years of marriage." - Julian Hawkhead, Scandal and Divorce in the 18th Century 

It was not until the  Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 were women finally recognized as individuals with rights separate from those of their husbands.

Garrow changes hats from barrister to politician to bring about a successful resolution to the problem.

Many years ago when I was just finishing high school I took a battery of tests to help determine my aptitude for different career paths.  I scored the highest, 99 of 100, in business administration.  I scored the next highest, 98 of 100, for my aptitude to become an attorney. Perhaps if I had read inspiring stories about William Garrow and his 18th century fight for justice, I may have made a different career choice!

Note: The DVD set is now available directly from Acorn Media or from the usual internet sources like Amazon.  Acorn Media specializes in historical dramas and documentaries. They also offer an online streaming service as well "with a special focus on the best of British television and mind, body, spirit programming."  They presently charge only $29.95 for a full year of streamed, commercial free programming with over 100 hours of programming available at any given time.  Membership also includes free standard shipping on any DVDs ordered from their extensive library and specials offers throughout the year.

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