Broadchurch Legal: what does a real criminal barrister think of the court drama?

Misplaced wigs, inadmissible evidence and graveside confrontations: what has Broadchurch series two got right – or wrong?

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Broadchurch has moved from the cliffs to the courtroom, and in the process viewers have started to wonder how much of the ITV crime drama is strictly accurate.

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Lawyers following series two have taken to Twitter to point out factual inaccuracies, from graveyard meetings to supposedly inaccurate legal proceedings.

Rupert Jones, a criminal and media law barrister based in Birmingham, says that the ITV drama has been the subject of plenty of court gossip since the series began. 

“The trial scenes in Broadchurch Season 2 have had a few moments which have got barristers muttering in courts the following day about the lack of reality,” he says. “But then, even Silk got things badly wrong at times – and that was about barristers!”

Despite the faults, Jones says he doesn’t really mind how writer Chris Chibnall has constructed the drama: “They have to have creative licence to make it entertaining and compelling. Anyone who has sat on a jury will know trials can be very long-winded. So I still enjoy Broadchurch – it’s brilliantly acted and has a great script.”

So, what holes in the case has our real barrister picked out?

Get wiggy with it

When Joe Miller was first asked the key questions – guilty or not guilty? – the man asking was a court clerk. There was just one problem. “The court clerk was wearing a wig. They don’t,” Jones explains. “He also took his glasses off in an inquisitive way as he asked whether the defendant was guilty or not guilty – I don’t think any Judge would put up with that sort of showmanship.”

Inadmissible evidence

“In the second episode, the defence applied to exclude the evidence of the defendant’s confession because a police officer (the defendant’s wife) had beaten him up around the time he made it,” Jones explains. “The defence applied under s76 and s78 of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act) which is the right law.” A tick for accuracy then?

“But – and it’s a big but – if you were defending and you knew your client’s confession might be inadmissible because it might have been obtained as a result of police brutality, you’d make the application before the jury ever heard the confession even existed.

“In Broadchurch, the jury heard the confession then the Judge ruled it inadmissible and told the jury to disregard it. You can’t guarantee that a jury would be able to put it out of their minds – so if you were defending, you’d want to make sure they never heard about it in the first place.”

Witness watch

Episode two saw Danny Latimer’s mum Beth give evidence for the first time, as her – unfaithful – husband Mark watched on. Big mistake says Jones: “Almost all of the prosecution witnesses have been sat in court watching the trial unfold. That does not happen as watching other witnesses could taint that witness’s own evidence.”

We choose you!

Episode one saw the Latimer family appear to choose their own prosecuting barrister, the retired Joceyln Knight (Charlotte Rampling). “The case is prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service who instruct a barrister. Victims’ families don’t tend to have a say about who prosecutes,” explains Jones. “For a high-profile murder case, they’d go to an experienced QC, so why they went to a retired barrister in this case, who knows?”

Graveyard shift

“All the barristers attended the graveyard to watch Danny Latimer’s body get dug up,” Jones recalls. “There’s no legal need for barristers to attend; indeed as they can’t be witnesses in the case, it’s probably best they stayed away and let the experts get on with it. Besides, you don’t get paid for attending graveyards under the legal aid regulations, so you’d have no reason to go, except for morbid curiosity.”

Home visit

Jocelyn Knight was invited over to the Latimer house after she agreed to take their case. “It’s not a good idea for the prosecuting barristers to go to their witnesses’ homes,” says Jones.

“Still, at least when she got there she looked embarrassed and made a nice speech about ‘telling the truth’. I think any barristers invited round to their witnesses’ house would politely decline.”

Open court

In episode two, the Judge in the case (Meera Syal) pulls in Jocelyn Knight and defence barrister Sharon Bishop QC (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) to run over the ground rules before the trial. “Not out of the question,” says Jones, “but generally if there’s any discussion about the trial, it should be done in open court (without the jury there), otherwise it can look a bit ‘old boys club’.”

Park and ride

Proof that barristers need their creature comforts just as much as the rest of us, Jones says his biggest gripe about the Broadchurch court scenes is… the parking. “The most ludicrous fault was that there was free parking outside the court. That, and the fact that the court served nice freshly made coffee and snacks. That’s ridiculous: In the West Midlands the only coffee you can get is from a vending machine!”

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Rupert Jones is a criminal and media law barrister with Citadel Chambers in Birmingham. Find him on Twitter @rupertajones