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Criminal Justice

Gritty, depressing, no-holds-barred drama is often done very well on British television and if you can bear the agony, itís well worth sticking with it. Criminal Justice, which was shown five nights in a row on BBC1, takes on the issue of domestic abuse and murder Ė not among the lower echelons of society but at the top.

The story starts with a brilliant young lawyer Joe Miller (Matthew Macfadyen) making the decisive point in a murder trial and winning the case. To general acclaim, we see him meticulously putting away his wig, gown and other items in a very precise manner. We cut to his wife Juliet (Maxine Peake) at home having a shower. She also diligently cleans up afterwards, wiping away the water from the tiles. The house is large, immaculate. The lawyer rings his wife and coldly tells her he loves her - she doesnít respondÖ

The tension is throbbing, clearly all is not well. Joe comes home and is friendly to his 13-year-old daughter and her friend but is too polite, cold and distant to his wife. She has again forgotten to buy something at the supermarket that he particularly wanted. She is quiet, reticent and obviously absolutely terrified. Joe checks what emails she has been sending, he checks the bathroom for signs of a shower, he looks through her bag.

This story is not about the drunken, flying fists type of domestic abuse but psychological bullying. More particularly the story focuses on an abused wifeís treatment at the hands of the justice system after she has snapped and stabbed her husband to death. Her lawyer is certain she has been abused, although she wonít say so, and she works to get her client off with a manslaughter charge rather than murder.

The young daughter is put in the position of having to give evidence against the mother she loves who has killed her beloved father. When it turns out her mother is pregnant, a further complication evolves when there are threats to take the baby away.

Fascinating insights in psychological control, how women are treated in the justice system and the role of social workers and lawyers provide a story that is upsetting but compelling. One interesting comment by the defending lawyer is that it will be bad to have too many women in the jury. Why? She says women donít understand abuse if they havenít live through it, they think Ė why didnít she leave him, just walk out? The lawyer claims itís better to get a jury made up predominantly of men. A counterintuitive statement.

Criminal Justice has an excellent script by Peter Moffat, brilliant acting and a thrilling plot line. It is hard to watch not just because of the unpleasant subject but in practical terms itís difficult to make sure you are at home for five nights in a row. Thankfully BBC iPlayer means itís easy to catch up with every episode. Wonderful drama!

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