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Blind Justice (1988)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Blind Justice (1988)
BBC, tx. 12/10-9/11/1988
5 x 90 minute episodes, colour
DirectorsRob Walker
 Michael Whyte
ProducerMichael Wearing
CreatorsPeter Flannery
 Helena Kennedy
WriterPeter Flannery

Cast: Jane Lapotaire (Katherine Hughes), Jack Shepherd (Frank Cartwright), Julian Wadham (James Bingham), Eamonn Walker (Hugh), Joanne Campbell (Tessa Parks)

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A group of idealistic and radical barristers band together to work on cases dealing with race, politics and human rights issues, coming into direct conflict with the Thatcher government and the legal establishment.

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Co-devised by barrister Helena Kennedy, this bold and incisive series looks at the 1980s through the experiences of a group of idealistic, politically motivated lawyers from what is sometimes referred to as the 'radical bar'. Peter Flannery's scripts tackle racism, police brutality and the Official Secrets Act, analysing the intervention of the government into the private lives of its citizens and the ways that personal freedom has been eroded.

The first two episodes focus on Katherine Hughes, an outspoken feminist (and Marxism Today reader), who eventually joins Fetter Court, a left-wing chambers set up by Frank Cartwright and James Bingham. Cartwright (beautifully underplayed by Jack Shepherd) is the most senior barrister in chambers, while the upper-class yet liberal Bingham is viewed with understandable suspicion. The two men take the limelight in episode three, which looks at the powerful legislation used in dealing with potential IRA suspects and at the underhand tactics of Special Branch. The fourth episode sees Katherine defending a man charged with murdering the stepdaughter he was abusing and pimping. The scene where she makes the stepfather (an uncompromising, utterly convincing performance by Brian Pringle) confess to his abuse by holding and soothing him is a series highpoint.

Although it is extremely earnest, flashes of black humour leaven the series' tone. In most episodes, a man is driven to remove his clothes in public acts of frustration reminiscent of the title sequence of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (BBC, 1976-79), while one episode begins with American tourists gazing in horror as a nun is apparently made to remove her underwear in the back of a speeding police car.

Born of a sense of righteous indignation at the manifest iniquities of the British legal system and the devious practices of government and the authorities, Blind Justice generally approaches its stories with credibility as well as seriousness. Not unsurprisingly, therefore, it concludes with the defeat of its main characters, after unsuccessfully trying to take on the secret state. In its final scene, Katherine stares directly into the camera and says: "Here's what I believe - in England we've forgotten the meaning of liberty. That's why we don't care about justice."

While the level of complex debate engendered by the decision to focus on a trio of genuinely socialist yet middle/upper-class lawyers now seems (sadly) unlikely in today's television drama, the issues Blind Justice confronts remain topical and relevant.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Justice in court (2:22)
2. Political conviction (2:23)
3. Police presence (1:47)
4. Defending the indefensible (2:21)
Justice (1971-74)
Wearing, Michael (1939- )
Legal Drama