Have you ever wondered how defence attorneys can defend people who are obviously guilty of heinous crimes like murder or rape? Especially when, in spite of all the evidence, they somehow manage to get them acquitted? Some lawyers will tell you that everyone deserves a defence as that's an integral part of the judicial system - people are after all presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In fact the prosecution has a far harder job than the defence attorney as he has to prove beyond any shadow of doubt that a person is guilty. If a jury has any doubts about a defendant's guilt they have to find in his or her favour. Yet doubt about guilt is not the same as proving innocence, sometimes it just means the case against a person wasn't conclusive enough for the prosecution to persuade the jury the accused was guilty - even if they were.
So, it's not necessary for defence attorneys to believe their clients are innocent, it's just necessary for them to believe they can convince a jury there isn't enough evidence to find them guilty. However, that's not always the case. In the five part mini-series Injustice, being released on DVD Tuesday August 28 2012 by Acorn Media, we meet barrister William Travers (James Purefoy) who has always believed in his clients' innocence. (In British law there are two different types of lawyer; a solicitor represents a person in all matters outside of court while barristers are hired specifically to represent them in court) Even his opponents in the crown prosecutor's office (British equivalent of district attorney but not a political office or appointment) admit he always believed his clients were innocent.
All that changed at some time before the series starts. Travers had defended an animal rights activist accused of setting a car bomb which blew up the small child of the scientist it was intended to kill. While the circumstantial evidence was substantial, he was able to get the accused acquitted by giving credence to the defendant's claim the police had coerced the confession he initially gave them. Closed circuit television tapes showed two officers entering his cell but unlike all the other times they had visited there were no audio or video tapes recording what happened while they were in there.
When that was combined with the fact there was no conclusive evidence proving he had committed the crime the accused was set free. However, for some reason Travers suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after the trial, left London and his successful practice, and moved with his family to the small town of Ipswich. While he continued on as a barrister, he refuses to handle murder trials ever again.
So his wife Jane (Dervia Kirwan) is surprised and worried when he agrees to defend a friend of theirs from university who has been accused of murdering his much younger secretary whom he had been having an affair with. She had given up a successful career with a publishing house in London in order to help him start over again, and is slightly put out that he's all of a sudden agreeing to go back and work in London again. However, she's mainly worried whether or not he'll be able to handle the pressure of working on such a high profile case again, figuring that was what caused his breakdown after the bombing case.
While we find out what's really troubling Travers through a series of flashbacks (there's no way I'm telling you anything about them) and that he's nowhere near as well as he claims he is, on the surface he seems to be the consummate professional. The one thing he does insist on when he agrees to take his old friend's case is if at any time he receives the impression his client is guilty he will quit immediately. It's while he's preparing to go to London to start work the police discover the body of the man he defended in the bombing case. He had been shot in the head at point blank range and, as the cop heading up the investigation, Detective Inspector (DI) Mark Wenborn (Charlie Creed-Miles) says, it looks like he'd been executed.
While DI Wenborn hunts for clues as to who might have killed his victim, Travers is investigating who else could have possibly wanted to kill his friend's secretary. She had been murdered in the hotel room the two of them had been sharing. He had gone out to get her something from a restaurant around the corner and claims to have found her dead when he returned. Closed circuit cameras confirm he had left the hotel and show him going into and out of the restaurant at around the time he claims to have been out of the room.
Aside from the secretary being murdered he also claims his laptop computer was stolen from the room, and it contained information about the business dealings of the oil company he worked for. Could there have been something on the computer important enough for somebody to kill the secretary? That's what Travers wants to find out. If he can convince the jury somebody else had a motive for killing the young women, his friend will look less like a suspect.
The series is basically split between Travers's and DI Wenborn's investigations. It is an incredible study in contrasts. For while Travers is compassionate, intellectual and sophisticated, Wenborn is his exact opposite. He's not above threatening or blackmailing individuals to get the information he needs and is generally a nasty piece of work. As his superior says to a junior officer whose been partnered with him, don't take it personally, the guy hates everybody.
Even their home lives are completely opposite. Travers is a dotting father and loving husband who's happiest in the bosom of his family. Wenborn on the other hand is emotionally abusive to his wife to the extent she's started shop lifting and the only time he pays attention to his infant daughter is to tell his wife to make her shut up. All in all we know which of them we prefer.
So when Wenborn starts to find circumstantial evidence tying Travers to the murder of his former client you don't want him to succeed in building a case against him. For even if Travers is guilty, the idea of this little creep taking down such a nice guy feels wrong. Especially as the man who was murdered could still have been guilty of killing a little boy. For while he was found innocent by the jury, there was still plenty of evidence that pointed to his guilt. Yet, should that matter if Travers is guilty? Where's the justice in somebody taking the law into their own hands?
What's amazing about this series is how it manages to raise these questions about the nature of justice while telling the story of the two investigations at the same time. It's like watching a top notch detective story and a debate on morality at the same time. Even better is how the show's creator's have managed to handle this without ever throwing the subject up in your face. Not once do any of the characters talk about it, yet it's an ever present subtext which comes out through the natural development of the story and the character's behaviour.
Both Purefoy as Travers and Creed-Miles as Wenborn, do exemplary jobs in their respective roles. While it's easy to hate the police officer for the creep he is, we also come to have a little bit of grudging respect for him as he doesn't care who he pisses off, he just wants to solve the crime. While he may have very few redeeming qualities as a human being, as his boss says, he gets results and usually catches the crooks with strong enough evidence to make a conviction stick.
Travers on the other hand is someone we like and admire. Yet Purefoy's performance is such that we know there is something wrong with him. He seems like he's holding himself just a little too tight, or saying he's fine as if he's trying to convince himself as well as the person asking him. When we start to see what he's hiding, those moments he lets his guard down, it still doesn't make him any less likeable, and in some ways even increases our sympathy towards him.
While I know most of us have come to expect special features with DVDs these days, don't let the lack of any save for a photo gallery from the show in this set put you off. Injustice is not the type of mini series you're used to seeing as it takes you into very grey moral territory and leaves you stranded there to find your own way out.
The acting, script and overall production is everything you've come to expect form this type of show from British television. However, be warned, once you start watching you will not want to stop, so start early in the evening if you don't want a late night. However, its worth the loss of sleep to watch something of this calibre.
(First published at Blogcritics.org as DVD Review: Injustice)
(Originally posted August 2012)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.