Episode 1

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Garrow's Law, Series 3 Episode 1 of 4

Duration: 1 hour

Pioneering eighteenth century barrister William Garrow returns to the Bailey to champion the rights of prisoners. Based on the true story of James Hadfield - accused of attempting to assassinate King George III - Garrow risks his reputation to defend the indefensible. And he changes British law forever.

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  • Real cases behind this episode

    Written by Mark Pallis (Story Editor and legal consultant)


    In this episode, Garrow defends James Hadfield, accused of high treason. The proceedings you see on screen have stuck very closely to the original case, which really was a fundamental turning point in the British law on insanity.

    Some key differences between the case in the episode and the real case are:
    • The real case took place in 1800, at the Court of King’s Bench - not the Old Bailey - and was for a charge of High Treason.
    • Hadfield was defended by Thomas Erskine, and Garrow was one of the barristers for the prosecution - this is because, later in his career, Garrow moved away from the defence work that we focus on in this series and undertook more cases for the crown.

    In carrying out the research for the story, we considered a number of cases where Garrow defended people facing the death penalty, and used insanity as a defence. This helped us have an accurate picture of Garrow’s take on the issue.

    In one such case from 1786, Garrow was up against Silvester, defending a man accused of forging a money order for £100 (SAMUEL BURT, forgery, 19th July 1786). In this case, Garrow states the law as he sees it, and we drew on these words for the case in the episode:

    “the law presumes that these are not the acts of the man that does them, but that he is as much a mere machine in the hands of something that governs him, as the beast in the street.”

    Proceedings on the Trial of James Hadfield
  • The fallout from the Criminal Conversation

    Another central part of this episode concerns Sarah. Not only is she in financial difficulty but she is also suffering emotionally owing to her son Samuel’s absence.

    The problems all stem from the fact that Lady Sarah and Sir Arthur are still technically married.

    As the legal commentator William Blackstone (1723 - 1780) said “In the eyes of the law a husband and wife are one, and that one is the husband.”

    This had important consequences at the time, which impact on Lady Sarah. As we discover early on, Sarah is refused credit because Sir Arthur has issued a public announcement against her. Such announcements were relatively common at the time and were used by husbands trying to stop their wives running up debts. What is mind blowing about the law on marriage at the time was that everything that one imagines belonged to Sarah, her clothes, her jewels, her son, were never legally hers in the first place - all was the property of the husband. That means that even if Sarah was to get a job, say as an author for example, anything she earned would go straight to Hill! Again, that’s because in law, the wife was legally subsumed into her husband.

    The law on custody was another important theme which we will be returning to in later episodes.

  • Garrow examines Nelson

    Another case that we took inspiration from was notable not only because it concerned insanity, but because Garrow examined a witness who was to later become rather famous .... Nelson!

    What’s so interesting about the case is that when Garrow asks Nelson about the character of the accused man, Nelson replies with an admission that in the past he himself has been “out of my senses”, with a “hurt brain”:

    Garrow: Can you fairly say, that this man, under the pressure of a good deal of liquor, did appear to you to be insane?

    Nelson: He was a cooper on board; and at the island of Antigua, I think it was, he was struck with the sun, after which time he appeared melancholy; I have been affected with it; I have been out of my senses; it hurts the brain.

    Garrow: Do you think that has been the case with respect this unfortunate prisoner?

    Nelson: I have thought so years ago when he was under my command.

    Garrow: Is he a man, from your knowledge of him, likely to commit a deliberate foul murder?

    Nelson: I should as soon suspect myself, because I am hasty, he is not.

    Court: Do you think, while he was on board your ship, that he was so melancholy, and so much beside himself, if he had committed a fault you would not have punished him for it?

    Nelson: If he had been guilty of a fault I should have punished him; I myself have been struck in the brain, so that I was out of my senses.”

    Proceedings of the Old Bailey: JAMES CARSE, murder, 12th December 1787


John Southouse
Alun Armstrong
Lady Sarah Hill
Lyndsey Marshal
Sir Arthur Hill
Rupert Graves
Aidan McArdle
Judge Buller
Michael Culkin
Lord Melville
Stephen Boxer
James Hadfield
Mark Letheren
Ann Hadfield
Sian Brooke
Lady Henrietta Armistead
Olivia Grant
Gavin Kean
Alexander Creighton
Clive Russell
Nick Pitt


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