2 Hare Court barrister Rob Rinder talks to Legal Cheek about being the UK’s answer to Judge Judy
Most barristers reckon they’d be a dab hand on telly or the stage; and most are undoubtedly wrong. Robert Rinder of the Temple’s 2 Hare Court, on the other hand, has taken to television effortlessly. His performance on ITV’s new daytime hit, Judge Rinder, is alternatively effervescent, comic, dramatic, sensitive, sensible and proudly camp.
Judge Rinder launched this week in a first series that is scheduled to run into early September, and it is unashamedly British television’s answer to the monumentally successful Judge Judy phenomenon in the US.
That programme — which for the last 18 years has featured senior New York family court judge Judith Sheindlin — attracts nearly 10 million daily viewers (and sees Sheindlin pull in a reported $45 million (£26 million) a year for her troubles). It would be unfair to expect Judge Rinder ever to woo such a large audience, but, according to Rinder himself, the programme has got off to a flying start. Viewing figures for the second day were estimated at 1.1 million, roughly double that of the station’s flagship breakfast programme.
Despite initial success, the decision to jump into daytime television — viewed by many as a swamp of low-brow mind-numbing drivel — is a risk for any serious lawyer.
“My main concern,” says Rinder in an exclusive interview with Legal Cheek, and his first since the programme launched, “was that while I accepted the programme had to have a significant entertainment element, it also had to have integrity. I was adamant that we had to make it clear to viewers that I am in fact a practising criminal barrister and not a civil law judge.
“But after discussing the issues with the team I was confident that they appreciated those concerns and that they knew what they were doing.”
Was he nervous that a career as a predominantly criminal law specialist would not suit the exclusively low grade civil claims before the TV court?
“For the last few years I’ve been doing complicated criminal cases that have a quasi-civil edge to them,” says Rinder. “Also, I have a legal adviser on the show — and to be fair, often the legal principles involved in the cases are not difficult. They are basic consumer issues, neighbourhood disputes and allegations of negligence.”
Rinder’s involvement stemmed from his general interest in pitching ideas for television programmes. He had been pushing an update to the seventies classic Crown Court, when he found himself chatting to ITV’s head of daytime programming at the beginning of this year.
“I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that I wanted to be a television judge,” says Rinder. “But I’d been involved in a very heavy complex case and I told the head of daytime programming that I needed a diversion and that I’d love to be on TV as a type of Judge Judy figure. She thought that was a great idea.”
Then the wheels turned much faster than production ideas normally do in the world of TV. After a few meetings to agree the format, a production schedule was drafted, involving only one rehearsal at the end of June with actors playing the roles of litigants. Filming kicked off in earnest at the beginning of July and only finished a fortnight ago.
The team was on a hectic schedule of filming up to nine cases a day, completing around 60 in total.
“The production team is incredible,” says Rinder. “It takes a substantial amount of time just to get one case through the stringent compliance regime dictated by Ofcom. It is a regulatory minefield. Under Ofcom’s regulations, I can only suggest a performance be made by one party, for example, the handing back of a set of tools. I can’t oblige them to do it. But I am allowed to make awards of damages.”
Some of the cases run for much longer than their allocated broadcast time and have to be cut considerably. One lasted for more than 90 minutes and eventually had to be squeezed into a 20-minute slot.
Rinder — who is very much still taking instructions at the bar (“although I always inform my clients about my participation in the show”) — maintains that so far the reaction he has encountered to the still young programme has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I was very apprehensive about the reaction of lawyers. My chambers has been supportive, but then it is populated by very confident barristers, who are not going to be threatened or upset by random comments that the programme somehow brings down the brand.”
To potential critics making just that point, Rinder asks that no-one judge the show without having seen it. And then they should ask two basic questions:
“Has the law been applied fairly and have the principles been applied correctly?”
And he argues the programme-makers are performing a service by bringing illustrating how basic disputes can be resolved sensibly.
“The issues at stake in the programme are extremely important to the people involved,” he says. “As lawyers, we tend to get complacent about value — we might think that a claim of a few hundred pounds is not worth getting het-up over. But to ordinary people, £500 means a great deal.”
The two queries about the programme that most annoy Rinder are that his own rapid-fire dialogue has been scripted (it isn’t, he says) and that the litigants are bringing manufactured claims (again, he says they aren’t).
What was the biggest nightmare in the making of Judge Rinder as Britain’s newest reality television star?
“I broke down in a fit of laughter during a case involving a mother and daughter suing and counter-suing each other. But I insisted that the production team keep the scene in.”
Judge Rinder is on ITV everyday at 2pm.