The Strange Case Of The Law

Confirmed for Wednesday 20 June on BBC Four at 9.00pm - 10.00pm

Ep 1/3

Wednesday 20 June



In his first television series, barrister Harry Potter tells the remarkable story of English justice for BBC Four. As an ordained priest in the Church of England, Harry spent eight years as a prison chaplain. He then trained as a barrister, was called to the Bar in 1993, and works exclusively in criminal defence.

Harry is a published author, with articles on prisons and criminal justice; a book on the history of capital punishment and two books on Scottish History. Harry was born and brought up in Glasgow.

Harry says: “As a Scot I may be said to have a dispassionate view of English Law, although it gratifies me to note that England’s greatest judge - Lord Mansfield - and her greatest barrister - Thomas Erskine, were Scottish too. The story of English Law is one about which we can all be proud. It is an important aspect of our national history, a boon we have given the world, and has been largely one which has ensured liberty and justice in equal measure, the two greatest attributes of civilisation.

“The English Common Law is anything but common. It is unique and peculiar to this country, growing out of the specifics of her history, and enshrining all that is best in our culture.”

English Common Law, with its emphasis on the role of the jury, set a standard of fairness that has influenced legal systems across the world. Many of the features that characterise today's courts were in place by as early as the 14th century and in this three-part series, Harry looks at how England came to have such a distinctive and enduring justice system.

In this first episode, Harry explores the rise of ‘trial by ordeal’ where painful and dangerous physical tests were used to determine guilt or innocence. He shows how systems of religious ‘proof’ came to be replaced by jury trial, explains why Henry II's attempt to unify law in England led to murder in Canterbury Cathedral, and takes a revealing look at the most famous legal document in history, the Magna Carta.