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Barristers lose it over Quiz courtroom blunders

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‘Was that a gavel I just heard?’

Actress Helen McCrory (Sonia Woodley QC) was praised by viewers for her Quiz performance (image credit — ITV)

Barristers have taken to Twitter to point out a number of supposed legal inaccuracies in ITV drama Quiz.

The three-part series premiered last Monday and is based on the real-life story of ‘coughing Major’ Charles Ingram and his wife Diana, who along with co-conspirator Tecwen Whittock, were convicted of attempting to cheat their way to the £1 million cash prize on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.

The actors were praised by viewers for their gripping performance in the drama which aired in hourly instalments and drew in almost six million viewers on Wednesday night’s finale.

Yet, the legal Twitterati, including anonymous bar blogger The Secret Barrister (SB), were quick to point out a number of courtroom blunders in the show’s re-enactment of the trio’s criminal trial at Southwark Crown Court. “It was a complete bingo card of legal fictions,” SB quipped.

Below we profile some of the most glaring errors spotted by barristers:

2 Hare Court crime barrister Fiona Robertson tweeted a detailed thread listing a total of 14 legal errors. “Cannot take the eye twitches anymore,” she wrote. “The legal errors in Quiz are making my head explode.”

Tom Sherrington, a criminal barrister at St John’s Buildings Barristers’ Chambers, pointed out Celador producer Mark Bonnar’s witness summons is in fact a mock-up from a civil, and not a criminal case. There is no “claimant” (or “plaintiff”!) in a criminal trial.

Fellow criminal barrister Maximilian Hardy of 9 Bedford Row humorously tweeted:

CrimeLine, a resource for criminal law professionals, pointed out:

Ishan Kolhatkar, former 2 Hare Court criminal barrister turned BPP director of education technology, commented:

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SB published a blog post over the weekend containing a breakdown of the errors with handy explainers, before questioning whether it mattered that Quiz had got the law so “hopelessly” wrong?

“Is this not simply what anybody has to endure when watching a fictionalised representation of their specialism?”, he or she wrote. “The only difference, surely, is that lawyers are prima donnas sufficiently precious to compose laborious Twitter threads and blog posts on how and why the errors offend them?”

The post continued: “Pedantry is our stock-in-trade, and we can and do deploy it indiscriminately and, inevitably, sometimes needlessly. But I do think there’s a distinction, and a point, here. I think there is validity among the snark.”

One Twitter user responded:

Hardy added: “Knowing the rules and rejecting them for purposeful dramatic licence is one thing but a wholesale failure to represent reality adds nothing and takes away a lot.”

SB concluded: “[I]naccuracies in the way we depict our justice system damage our understanding of something that matters to us all, more than I think we realise.”

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24 Comments

Dr Dre

Anyone ever seen a doctor write on Twitter about how the medical inaccuracies in Casualty, Scrubs and Holby City ‘matters to us all, more than I think we realise’?

This is what happens when people have far too much time on their hands.

Get over yourself SB.

(47)(12)

Anonymous

Both these medical quasi-procedurals hire advisers to seek to maximise consistency with medical practices. Most legal focused programmes do too. I remember being told to watch The Bill because it was so accurate on police and court practice. This one obviously did not seek any advice. Very obviously.

(15)(3)

JD

Scrubs is one of the more accurate medical shows…

(1)(0)

Uses TV shows to show off profession

Look at me, look at me! I’m a barrister!

(65)(8)

Anon

3 episodes of a TV show, and you’d think that they were undertaking heavy political analysis of a government’s COVID policies.

They can’t stand all the positive attention being on their doctor friends can they?

(20)(7)

TV can be wrong?!

Well, he was also wearing an AGC rank slide when Maj Ingram was actually in the Royal Engineers – and he was wearing the wrong colour beret… who’d have though TV could be inaccurate!

(19)(0)

WigWearer

A decent consultant would sort all this out. Cheap. These sort of errors really annoy me.

(17)(8)

Amused

Grow up.

(12)(9)

Gospel

Twitter is for losers

(11)(2)

Anon

Is that why you’ve got an account?

(5)(0)

Bazzz

These barrister twitter twats think they’re talking to an enthralled audience of The General Public, but they’re mainly just talking to each other. It’s quite pathetic.

(29)(5)

Anonymous

Not sure how some of them ever find the time to write thousands and thousands of tweets.

Sitting all day in front of a screen complaining, over-sharing and desperately seeking validation from pixels.

Yeah, definitely something to aspire to in life.

(20)(0)

Anonymous

Still you’d like to earn their hourly rate while spending half of that hour playing on the internet.

(2)(7)

Anonymous

Not really. I’d prefer to enjoying raise my kids myself than pay a nanny to leave them with an iPad.

Real men spend time with their families. Not Twitter.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Barristers take 12 weeks off a year minimum. And have a country place too. And they can still play on twitter. Bet you have to ask someone whether you can take time off when you want time off don’t you, “real man”?

Andrew Heenan

They’re bright guys N gals, these baristas, but they clearly have no idea what ‘fiction’ means.
I notice that among all the whines not one complained that most of the case was shown for the defence, and bugger all for the prosecution. Surely that IS important (especially as it’s fired up the conspiracy theorists who argue that “Celador has a case to answer”).
D’oh!
PS: yes, I do know what a barista is. joke, innit?

(6)(1)

das

LC now individually moderates all comments

(1)(0)

CecilBayton

The programme was billed as light entertainment, not a case study open for comment aimed at trainee legal execs etc. The public loves its dramas, especially when there’s a ‘did he or didn’t he.’ I think he didn’t, she did!

(5)(0)

Anonymous

“Light entertainment” – programming for the brainless masses, or as we now know them “new Tory voters of the North”.

(1)(5)

Gladiatrix

It’s worth pointing out that ITV is a designated public service provider, and arguably has a duty to educate and inform the public. The errors in Quiz should have been avoided. I think ITV knows that, hence its rather defensive response to the criticisms that have been made.

(0)(5)

#freethebriefcaseone

The most unrealistic thing was probably the competent advocacy.

(5)(0)

James Plaskett

Permit me to contribute a Post which is pretty much that I appended at S B´s Blog –

James Graham appreciated many of the discrepancies.
It was artistic license taken by a man who based QUIZ upon the book I co-authored with the late Bob Woffinden: Bad Show: The Quiz, The Cough, The Millionaire Major.
Had the coughs which accompanied Judith Keppel´s supplying of the correct answers been played at trial (in episode three of QUIZ those were thus presented by actress Helen McCrory, representing Sonia Woodley QC) then the chances of a conviction would have lessened.
Had they been played at ´Disclosure´ then I have my doubts there would even have been a trial.

I appreciate how court procedures were misrepresented.
But you are perhaps failing to note what made THIS TRIAL UNIQUE.
The normal adversarial system of justice works fairly well when respected as prosecution presents charges, defence counters, jury deliberates and judge presides.
Here however, what was not picked up on was how the court was actually mirroring the environment in which the alleged crime took place. In that there was focus by people with coughing difficulties upon people speaking.
Jon Ronson attended all eighteen days of the trial to report for The Guardian, Jon Ronson. I drew his attention to this. He was then moved to contribute a piece to the Guardian of July 17th 2006 –
Are the Millionaire three innocent?
Jon Ronson: ´I was sure the three ‘quizzers’ convicted of defrauding Chris Tarrant’s show were guilty. But now I have my doubts…´

The same mirroring, again unappreciated, occurred the week after the trial on the BBC´s Have I Got News For You? when Paul Merton joined in the global taking of the piss as he described the plan of reading out the answers for the accomplice to cough on the right one.
Just after his saying “cough” came a cough from the audience.
He said, ” I haven´t got to the answers yet!” to widespread laughter.

Indubitably this is the familiar syndrome of experiencing the need to yawn when you see someone else yawn now transposed from the visual context to an auditory one. Particularly if you feel tired or the individual is boring the equipment off you.

Has anyone heard of such an instance in the annals of Justice?
Do you agree with me that, in this one instance, it was not via the adversarial system that justice manifested.
She triumphed in the guise of a myth (?)
I apologise on behalf of myself, the late Bob Woffinden and the screenwriter for any procedural inaccuracies upon which your professional eyes pick up.
But I beg you to entertain the idea that this was, in all senses of the term, a SHOW TRIAL.
In this unique case, the only portrayal justice might find was a denouement via the agency of comedic, dramatic (and singing and dancing!) thespians.
And therefore to grant us just a little license as we, in our efforts to bring about an authentic appeal in a real court, misrepresented one.

And that appeal has already been initiated.

In April 2018, Nicholas Hilliard visited London´s Noel Coward Theatre to watch QUIZ, the play based upon his successful prosecution of The Millionaire Three, and posed for a photograph with the actor who portrayed him; Paul Bazeley.
In January 2015, Hilliard became the Recorder of London, the senior judge at London´s Old Bailey court.

Atop the Old Bailey stands F.W. Pomeroy´s sculpture of Lady Justice. The golden finial, inspired by the Roman Goddess Iustitia, has been there for over a century now, holding the sword of truth aloft in one hand and the scales of justice in the other.

She sports no clown´s mask.

But the people want bread and the circus.

(0)(1)

John

No

(0)(0)

CrusTyrunt

I think the format of the gameshow was flawed, given that there must be numerous occasions where those who attempted to become a millionaire were helped by some form of audience intervention (including those in the fast finger chairs). As such, a large amount of the money awarded to contestants is arguably questionable.

(1)(0)

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