Saturday 25 May 2013
In the late 18th century, a young, idealistic barrister, William Garrow, is given his first criminal defence case at the Old Bailey by attorney and mentor, John Southouse.
The case is brought by Mary Pace who needs a barrister to defend her innocent brother, Peter. He finds himself falsely accused by the renowned thief-taker, Forrester, of robbing a man at gunpoint.
At the Old Bailey, Garrow meets the prosecuting barrister, Oxford-educated Silvester, who quickly becomes Garrow's nemesis. An over-confident Garrow is outwitted in court by Silvester and Forrester humiliates Garrow when questioned by him. Silvester wins the case and the infamously harsh Judge Buller sentences Peter Pace to death.
Garrow is devastated but his performance nonetheless catches the eye of Lady Sarah Hill who is in court taking notes for her husband, the politician Sir Arthur Hill.
Garrow is invited to dinner at Sir Arthur and Lady Sarah's home but the dinner party does not go well. The talk around the table of crime and punishment offends Garrow's sense of justice and he leaves in disgust.
Lady Sarah Hill takes notes at a magistrate's hearing of a young maidservant, Elizabeth Jarvis, who is accused of murdering her newborn baby. Her mistress, Mrs Tarling, discovered her condition and the case is brought before Judge Buller at the Old Bailey.
Lady Sarah goes to Southouse and insists that Garrow defends Elizabeth and that she will pay for the defence. Southouse has no choice but to instruct Garrow and they go to visit Elizabeth at Newgate Prison.
In court, Garrow is this time well-prepared having visited an obstetrician with a queasy Southouse and gathered vital medical evidence. He discredits the evidence of the prosecution witnesses – Mrs Tarling and a surgeon, William Herring – and advises Elizabeth to defend herself to the jury as law dictates he is not allowed to do so.
His method of defence works and the jury find Elizabeth not guilty. She is released.
A jubilant Garrow vows to change the law and bring justice to the defenceless and he tells Southouse that he hopes the support of Lady Sarah will help him do so. Southouse does not approve.