20 August 2014
Judge Rinder: What's so wrong with a bit of pantomime law?
The long-awaited British version of hit US show 'Judge Judy' has finally begun. Last Monday's debut saw the commencement of the 20 episode series of 'Judge Rinder' that will run every weekday on ITV at 2pm until well into September. It stars 2 Hare Court criminal barrister Robert Rinder as the judge.
Like Judge Judy, which features New York attorney Judy Sheindlin and has run for the last 18 years, the show is based around the flamboyant performance of a charismatic central judge figure who resolves legal disputes which have befallen warring members of the public. With over one million viewers tuning in for the first episode, the early signs are that Judge Rinder has the potential to be a daytime TV favourite.
Much of this early success owes to the personality of Rinder himself, who has wholeheartedly embraced the TV judge role to exude the sort of star quality that shatters the stuffy lawyer stereotype. Called to the Bar in 2001 having graduated from Manchester University, Rinder specialises in money laundering and fraud – a very different type of work to the small claims matters that he rules upon in his new TV judge role.
But thanks to the quasi-civil element to much high-end criminal work, Rinder seems to have taken in his stride the basic consumer issues, neighbourhood disputes and allegations of negligence which he has advised upon so far. In doing so, the barrister (who is not a judge in real life) has exhibited a natural flair for off-hand quips. Particular favourites include ‘listening doesn’t mean I’m believing’, ‘save that sort of venom for boyfriends and husbands’ and ‘do you know what amnesia is or have you forgotten?’ Put it all together and it's great TV. For a quick preview, check out the Judge Rinder Vine account.
However, Judge Rinder isn't without its critics, with several barristers privately raising eyebrows at the decision of a respected member of the Bar to associate himself with something so frivolous. Does what is at times a panto-style performance – filled with dramatic flourishes and jokey monologues – diminish the legal profession? Rinder thinks not, telling Legal Cheek in an interview last week:
‘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.’
He adds that he asks critics not to judge the show without first having seen it. At which point, he urges them to ask two questions: ‘Has the law been applied fairly and have the principles been applied correctly?’
It's from this perspective that Judge Rinder makes quite useful viewing for law students – even if the programme's primary purpose is to entertain. Certainly, anyone who has spent a day in the public gallery of a courtroom will note that detailed legal arguments are often dry and riddled with complex legal diction – all of which are notably absent in Rinder's TV court. In this sense, the show is a perfect break from the rigours of law school while also being at least slightly educational.
Budding barristers and solicitor-advocates can learn too from Rinder's harsh but fair dealing with witnesses in his court – like most judges he values brevity – and how he adapts his style to those who are visibly upset or are having to discuss difficult personal issues. Admittedly Rinder is a bit showy, but beneath it all is a good general case study of the flamboyant court performer that has long been part of Bar mythology.
In addition, there is also a strong argument to be made that Rinder is making the law more accessible to the average person. It is significant that the cases and judgements in the show are real. For example, one episode concerned payday loans and the huge 100% interest rate which a claimant had been charged. Amid a surge in payday loan companies and increased litigation against their unfair terms, it was a timely topic to consider, and Rinder's advice against taking out payday loans –despite the fact that they are legal – was a useful illustration of the distinction between law and common sense.
Also featured has been the issue of unfair contract terms and the doctrine of ‘buyer beware’ (known as ‘caveat emptor’), which Rinder applied to, respectively, a dispute over some gardening work and a used car deal that had gone wrong. While not extensive, the detail was greater than contained in the typical tabloid newspaper depiction of such matters.
The idea for Judge Rinder apparently came about when Rinder suggested to ITV that they try a re-make of seventies classic Crown Court and, having been re-buffed, suggested a British Judge Judy instead. Few FLN readers will have heard of Crown Court, but it was very popular in its day. The early signs are that Judge Rinder has the potential to be just as big. The show's growing army of fans will be keenly awaiting this week's instalments.
Catch Judge Rinder on weekdays at 2pm on ITV.
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