Art like beauty is in the eye of the beholder but for me the best test of the quality of art is its nearness to truth. By that analysis television is a vexed art form because truth is often difficult, sometimes messy, usually boring and rarely susceptible to tidy one hour packaging. Reality TV is, of course, anything but. But sometimes, through skill or serendipity, TV excels. The three part BBC4 series 'The Prosecutors', providing a peek inside the machinery of the Crown Prosecution Service, commenced this week with a heartbreaking glimpse of truth.
I have followed the reaction of Criminal Justice System professionals who watched the programme and those who couldn’t bring themselves to watch it. In the latter camp are those who anticipated that they would be unable to contain their feelings at a sanitised account of a functioning prosecution service glossing over the myriad problems which in reality bedevil the proper execution of justice.
Certainly Episode 1 did not suggest an organisation in crisis. But even the most jaded practitioner could not claim that every single case handled by the CPS goes wrong. Many many cases progress as they should and when they should. Of course that should not conceal the fact that things do go wrong and, many would suggest, are going wrong a lot more often than they once did. With that in mind it would be useful to know on what terms the CPS agreed to let the cameras in and what degree of editorial control has been exercised.
Making all due allowance for professional scepticism I think this is a series that needs to be watched and watched widely. Episode 1 ‘The Charge’ focuses on two cases: an organised gang of ATM exploding bank thieves and a driving fatality case. The former case carries a small frisson of heist film voyeurism but the latter case involves a truly exceptional woman.
On 16 September 2013 11 year old Flynn Morrissey, wearing a seatbelt, was being driven by his mother to school in Cheshire. A Porsche driven by Hassan Maan collided head on with Flynn’s mother’s vehicle on her side of the road and Flynn was killed. A perfectly ordinary day on which his life ended and hers and her family’s was changed forever.
Absolutely rightly a large part of the focus of the programme was on her and the gradual revelation of her extraordinary fortitude and magnanimity. This was not a woman thirsting retribution. This was a mother who naturally and urgently wanted to know what had caused her son’s death and who displayed remarkable forbearance that proceedings in the case only concluded on 13 February 2015.
Justice delayed is justice denied is a hollow cliché for most who practise in crime but for a bereaved witness like Flynn’s mother those long months between the tragedy of her son’s death and the resolution of the trial process must have been an agony of waiting. I feel that this programme is required viewing because Flynn’s mother in plain speaking embodies the redemptive power of forgiveness inspired by pragmatism and a wish to do right by her son.
It is the duty of all of us, not just the prosecutors, to ensure that the Criminal Justice System does right by people like her. Underlying many of the delays in the system is a lack of funding and I sincerely hope that the series does not conceal that truth.
But for the moment I am grateful for the strength of character of Flynn's mother that enabled her to share her truth with the viewing public.