There are increasingly few places that remain unviolated by TV cameras. Papal conclaves and jury retiring rooms are two that spring to my mind. You may struggle to name that many more. Is it for the best that we don't get to see the horse trading and strong arming that precedes the puffs of white smoke? What about murder verdicts: is it right that we should trust to blind faith that juries faithfully follow judicial directions and bring to bear sober and dispassionate analysis of the competing cases?
You can forget about Vegas it's what goes on in jury rooms that really stays behind. I've been at the Bar for 20 years and involved in literally 100s of trials and can't say with certainty what persuaded the jury in any of them. Like any barrister worth their salt I've obviously wondered what goes on, what gets said and what, in the end, counts.
So on the face of it Channel 4's 'The Jury: Murder Trial' ought to be an absolutely tantalising prospect. But unfortunately I can't bring myself to watch it. A real life murder trial restaged in front of two juries of ordinary people. Both hearing the same evidence. All deliberations filmed. Will they reach the same verdicts? In the absence of cameras filming the Real McCoy isn't this the next best thing? Well no, unfortunately it's not.
In any serious criminal trial there can be moments of real drama. But the purpose of the proceedings is not entertainment and nobody in court is under the illusion that it is. As anyone who has served on a real jury can attest large parts of the criminal trial process can be almost mind-numbingly dull. Try sitting through even 30 minutes of mobile phone cell site schedule evidence, sometimes this can go on for a whole day or even longer.
It is because real lives at stake and the jeopardy is real that attention is maintained. If you filmed that ratings would be through the floor. A criminal trial unfolds to a set sequence. Prosecution opening, prosecution evidence, defence evidence, legal directions, prosecution speech, defence speech, summing up, deliberation. There is a reason for that sequence and it is not entertainment.
I know, without watching the programme, that sequence is not maintained, I know that the jury's opinions on the case are filmed throughout, in a real trial juries are specifically expected to await the end of the summing up before commencing their discussions and deliberations. And there is no director or producer watching on anxiously hoping for controversy and dispute.
12 Angry Men is a classic drama precisely because Reginald Rose sat down and plotted the give and take of the jury room with that end in mind. If those behind the Channel 4 programme were faithfully and absolutely intent on verisimilitude then they would need to gamble upon the experiment making for turgid television. When money and ratings are at stake who is going to take that gamble?
And there's the rub. If this show is to entertain it will need to shock or subvert our hopes and assumptions about juries weighing evidence carefully and objectively. If this show is to reflect real life it has to be bold enough to bore. What it can't do is both and the danger that lies in making good entertainment is doing bad damage to the credibility of a system that works.