Back in 2007 Nine’s cameras gained rare access to the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court where justice was dished out to local crimes. Narrated by William McInnes, The Code: Crime & Justice wasn’t too bad, but didn’t enjoy a long run.
In the 10 years since I’m hard pressed to think of another that has attempted to open these doors, despite the long-running success of Judge Judy.
Foxtel’s Court Justice, produced by CJZ Productions, will change all that as it turns the cameras on Sydney’s Downing Centre. It’s the busiest court in the land and, impressively, this series gives us access to 12 magistrates as they hear cases from all walks of life. Access is everything in this genre.
Be warned, the language is unfiltered here as witnesses recount tense situations, but as Magistrate Jacqueline Milledge tells one witness, she is ok with hearing the F and C bombs, but she doesn’t take kindly to being called ‘darl.’
“Sorry Your Honour,” the man replies.
There are 3 cases profiled in this half hour premiere: a boxer facing an assault charge, a repeat offender charged over a graffiti incident and a woman accused of breaking an Apprehended Violence Order. All three could go to prison if found guilty, should a judge deem it appropriate to the crime.
Like Judge Judy -but without the theatrics- these magistrates are both judge and jury. After hearing Defence & Prosecution cases they can arrive at a singular verdict.
Despite some pixellation of court staff, public and even a Prosecutor, the series hears from the accused in a largely empathetic set-up. The court room scenes -where all the drama unfolds- is robust and to the point. Editing succinctly supplies the key arguments and magistrate questions but you’re never really sure which way a verdict will fall.
Chief Magistrate Judge Graeme Henson explains that law harkens back to the 10 Commandments, most of which are paralleled in modern policing. Could be hard to prove, Your Honour.
Downing Centre is “a snapshot of the broader community” says Magistrate Chris O’Brien (pictured), who hears the graffiti case from a man who insists he is an artist -on railway property.
Another lawyer does his best to discredit a witness in the AVO case, in order for his client to win.
I note the irony of boxer Garth Wood facing an assault charge….. 7 years ago he won Foxtel’s The Contender Australia. This is another starring TV role he probably didn’t want.
What is less clear is why the various accused have agreed to have their cases filmed. While the magistrates may be showing due process, which possible acts as a deterrent, I’m not so sold on the motivation for the accused. Are they getting their legal fees covered by CJZ? (Update: CJZ has denied, see comments below).
In any case this is short and sharp storytelling which, aside from the genre’s tendency to infuriatingly pause each story, opens our eyes to the raw procedures of cases big and small. CJZ have a long history in observational titles and it puts them in good stead here.
7:30pm Sunday on Crime + Investigation