This BBC documentary was featured as part of the ‘Timeshift’ documentary series. Originally broadcast in April 2011, ‘Retrial by TV’ looks at the meteoric rise of the BBC’s ‘Rough Justice’ series. Click on the video below to watch.
On air from 1982, ‘Rough Justice’ was an investigative journalism programme credited with helping to release 18 people in 13 separate cases before being cancelled in 2007, ostensibly as a cost-cutting measure. It’s hard not to think the real reason was connected with the number of times they ran afoul of Police forces, judges and politicians, who were the groups targeted for criticism for failure to do their jobs properly. It was an approach that left ‘Rough Justice’ open to attack by these Establishment forces who thought themselves above criticism and beyond question; they simply were not used to having their methods and results questioned. Their word was supposed to be final, and even if someone were wrongfully convicted, it was more important that that person stayed in prison than was released, in order to show that the system worked. The programme features a short section from an interview from Lord Denning, Lord Justice of Appeal, which neatly summarises this attitude:
Denning: “After a decision has been given by Judge and Jury, the Media must not go round trying to get what they call ‘fresh evidence’ so as to show, if they can, that the decision was wrong. That is undermining our system of Justice altogether.”
Interviewer: “Are you saying that the system, and the integrity of the system, and the public perception of the integrity of the system, is more important than the fate of one or two individuals?”
Denning: “Certainly! The integrity of our system of justice and upholding it is one of the foundations of our society.”