LAW & ORDER UK — SEASONS 1 TO 4–2009–2011
This first batch of four seasons are not entirely clear on IMDb as for the release dates of them. Season 3 seems to be dangling somewhere in mid-space or should I say mid-airs. But nevertheless these four seasons are unified by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the main Crown Prosecutor concerned in the cases. These two characters leave at the end of the fourth season. Note finally that a season is ten episodes and they run one after the other not from one year to the next but just in sequential order over hardly two years of airing.
It is a remake of the eponymous US series and the first episodes are the clear transfer from the US context (New York) to the UK context (London). But after a while of copycat translation the series gets on its own British feet. And it becomes interesting in itself and the covered cases.
The principle is the same because the judicial structure of the US was just translated from the English system into the US system, though with some differences that developed over the last two centuries. The opening sentence is the same, or nearly, and I maintain I hear “In a criminal justice system,“ wrongly quoted as “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: The police who investigate crime, and the Crown Prosecutors who prosecute the offenders.,” by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_%26_Order:_UK. This quotation is generic and it is not true at all countries beyond the USA and the UK. And even in the UK the Crown Prosecution Service has authority only in England and Wales. But the division between the police and the Crown Prosecutors is different from what its equivalent is in the US where the prosecutors are only prosecuting, hence taking into account what proves the guilt of the suspect. And that’s the first difference.
The Crown Prosecutors, just like the police, in Great Britain are looking for the “truth” which means the balanced approach of any eventual court procedure, both what proves the guilt and the innocence of the suspect. Several cases deal with this responsibility of crown prosecutors and one case goes as far as prosecuting the crown prosecutor because in one case one testimony proving the innocence of the accused had been sidetracked and hence kept away from the crown prosecutor who had the suspect, then accused, convicted in court by a jury and sentenced by a judge as guilty. This man, wrongly convicted and sentenced turns against the Crown Prosecution Service and the particular crown prosecutor who prosecuted his case after his release from prison.
It is revealed that the piece of evidence was in fact pushed aside by an employee of the said crown prosecutor who had had an affair with her, and when he announced her he was ending the unethical relation she acted out of vengeance on her side. The crown prosecutor was acquitted by the jury of his case and the convicted innocent man had his case revised due to the new element that came out. In other words, neglecting a piece of evidence is a criminal offence in Great Britain for a crown prosecutor. Is it in the USA? It sounds more there as being the responsibility of the Defense to bring the evidence that proves the innocence of the suspect and accused forward in court. And in the USA there is a strong principle that someone cannot be tried twice for the same offence: look at Mumia Abu Jamal.
The second great difference is the ethnic mix in the police (though not in the investigating team), in the Crown Prosecution Service, even in justice with quite a few black or ethnic judges, and in society with a great ethnic mix in London. Same thing with women who are integrated at all levels. The US series is far from this obvious and visible ethnic integration. And that is not a frivolous issue because on the US side the ethnic loss in public image is in no way frivolous but unluckily quite conscious and eventually, for some people at least, justified for any reason from bigotry to prudence.
The final remark is that the cases are dealt with in a more humane way on the UK side. The social and even tritely social elements are brought up, analyzed and empathized by the various teams and court personnel. The few times when the jury is shown as a whole are clear about the great social, ethnic and gender mix in the twelve men and women there. And the main difference is the fact that a jury is not obliged to take decisions unanimously Juries Act 1974, s.17).
A majority vote is possible. Not in the USA where unanimous decisions have to be the rule otherwise the jury is hung, meaning the accused is set free, maybe. This is also a difference since in the UK you can be tried a second time with a new jury. It is not that simple in the US.
“The verdict must be unanimous…. If there are multiple defendants, the jury may return a verdict at any time during its deliberations as to any defendant about whom it has agreed…. If the jury cannot agree on all counts as to any defendant, the jury may return a verdict on those counts on which it has agreed…. If the jury cannot agree on a verdict on one or more counts, the court may declare a mistrial on those counts. A hung jury does not imply either the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The government may retry any defendant on any count on which the jury could not agree.” [Rule 31, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure].
Note the title of the series is wrong here since it is not at all the same procedure in Scotland. It is difficult to have a hung jury in Scotland in criminal cases. Juries consist of 15 people, and verdicts are decided by a simple majority of 8 of the initial membership. If jurors drop out because of illness or another reason, the trial can continue with a minimum of 12 jurors, but the necessary majority remains 8 votes in that case. Anything less is treated as an acquittal, even 7 out of 12. [Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, section 90]
In other words, and as a conclusion this first batch of this series is moving slowly towards a real British approach of justice and social situations that produce the crimes, hence the criminals, and that implies the great caution at using psychiatric elements that could bring up the irresponsibility of the accused in their criminal acts. The common case between this series and the one in New York about a twelve-year-old that pleads guilty because the defense that tries to prove he is a killer because of a “killing” gene demonstrates to the child he is a “monster” that has to be eliminated. The British version definitely leaves the door open to some possible treatment, even in prison or a detention institution. That kind of hope is the main tone of the series and is definitely not dominant on the New York side. The British seem to consider crime as social dysfunction, at least in some meaningful proportion, whereas the US justice system insists a lot more on the individual and personal responsibility of the criminal, hence on the psychiatric or psychological responsibility which is a way to avoid asking the sorry question of the responsibility of society in crime.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU