Gavels, gavels and more gavels — and a dodgy wig

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Yet another entry for Legal Cheek’s soon to be bursting gavel hall of shame — and this time from our favourite public service broadcaster


The gavels hall of shame expands again this week — only days after we exposed the University of Liverpool for its courtroom ignorance.

Legal Cheek is indebted to reader and law student Alexander Goss for pointing out that Auntie Beeb dropped a monster clanger in “The Great Train Robbery”, a television two-parter aired a year ago.

The BBC One production retold the well-worn story of Ronnie Biggs & Co and their famous 1963 heist. In the second part, several of the gang have been nicked and hauled before a Crown Court for trial.

The scene includes more barristers than you’d get round the free bar at a just-made-up-to-silk bash. In strides the judge, who, on sitting behind the bench, proceeds to bash a gavel with the same intensity as that of the human-ape — in the early scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey” — on discovering that the bones of dead wild boars can be used as weapons.

The programme-makers compounded the sin by writing a couple of newspaper photographers into the script. As the defendants are led to the dock, the snappers hop up and down as they loose off with vintage flashbulbs.


All of which reminded the Judge of an equally egregious cinematic breach of accuracy. Jim Sheridan’s 1993 paean to the Guildford Four and the miscarriage of justice around the bombing of a Surrey pub cast Emma Thompson in the role of legendary campaigning solicitor Gareth Peirce.

Now as remarkable a lawyer as Peirce is, she is not, as far as Legal Cheek can discern, capable of time travel. But nonetheless, an early scene has Peirce sitting in the back of a car en route to the Court of Appeal for the hearing that eventually quashed the convictions. She causally tosses a barrister’s wig onto the car seat.


The Guildford Four had their convictions quashed in 1989 — one year before the Courts and Legal Services Act received Royal Assent; it was the legislation granting solicitor-advocates higher rights of audience.

Still, the filmmakers can claim prescience points — the Law Society’s website shows that Peirce ultimately went on to be accredited as a higher court solicitor-advocate. Whether she’s stumped up several hundred notes for a horsehair is unknown. Perhaps Sheridan should do her a favour and post one from the props department.


Next in the gavel hall of shame — step forward Staffordshire University law school [Legal Cheek]