The Significance of PACE in ITV drama “Broadchurch”.

 Written by James Farrell, Trainee Solicitor.

Judging from the first 2 episodes of the ITV program it would appear that emphasis has shifted from the Cluedo-esque ‘Who-dunnit’ of the first series to more regimented court room drama. For those who are unaware of the series starring David Tenant and Olivia Colman, the series follows the murder of school boy Danny Latimer in the coastal small town of Broadchurch, culminating in the Defendant finally being charged in the final episode; the identity of whom shall not be disclosed in this article for those who are yet to watch it. To the astonishment of the local community, the Defendant enters a not guilty plea and a full criminal trial ensues causing much distress for the victim’s family who are desperately seeking closure.  

From my own personal perspective, the direction that the writers decided to take in the second series initially struck me as slightly inauthentic and ‘broadbrush’ despite a relatively limited understanding of Criminal Law. In particular, there was an instance when the Barrister for the Defence seemed to make a ‘kneejerk’ decision to accept instructions in the case after reading a sentence off some documentation provided by her junior for less than 5 seconds. It is also occurred to me that the purpose of the questions put to Mrs Latimer relating to her husband’s affair in the cross examination seemed to be more plot driven as opposed to having any meaningful relevance within the legal proceedings.

The witness stated to the Barrister ‘what has this got to do with anything?’ and I tend to agree.  I’m not sure I can see a link between disproving that the Defendant had not committed murder and in practice it is more likely that the witness would be protected to a greater degree.

That said, the writers’ choice to utilise the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to rule the Defendant’s confession as inadmissible was an interesting and excellent one. In this week’s episode the Defendant adduced evidence that the Defendant was beaten in or around the time of the confession (without giving too much away). Despite the fact that the beating took place after the confession, in the absence of any CCTV evidence to the contrary, the Defendants stated that there was no way of knowing whether the beating took place before or after the confession. The Judge agreed and the confession was excluded under section 76 of PACE as the Prosecution did not (in the Judge’s view) prove beyond reasonable doubt that the confession was not obtained through oppression.

A good bit of work by the writers and excellent application of the statutory provision. I look forward to tuning in next week.


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