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Critics' Corner
4 June, 2003  
"Rough Justice: Tales from the Bar" A four (three) part documentary series for ABC TV

Rough Justice – Tales from the Bar. Stay in next Tuesday night and watch Howard Insall SC having dinner with the wife and little Insalls. It’s a real treat on Your ABC


“Rough Justice: Tales from the Bar”
A four (three) part documentary series for ABC TV

Produced, directed & filmed by Simon Target

Reviewed by I. Box

It’s criminal …

Institutional documentarian Simon Target (Uni, King’s School, The Academy) has hit the spot once again with this slick and seamy insider’s view of the second oldest profession.

In his series, screening on Tuesday nights at 8pm on Your ABC, Target peels back the layers of silken ambition to reveal some juicy truths about the mysterious practice of barristering.

If you’ve missed the first two episodes, fear not because the third (Tuesday June 10) is by far the most pleasurable and the fourth has been canned because of legal problems.

Episode one titled Joining the Club traced the journey of “mature-aged” aspirant Sarah Laikind (left), a bottle-blonde, nervous and likeable Queenslander with an interesting past – she has a criminal conviction for cannabis possession.

While this fact makes for some genuine dramatic tension during Sarah’s admission (there’s a rumour that she may be challenged by the bar board), it’s not the stuff of the series. Its real power is voyeurism, pure and simple.

And what a delicious perve we get. We saw Sarah in the thick of her six week Bar practice training course getting some vital career advice from her tutor: “Remember your briefcase is the most important thing…”

She came home to tell her hubby that her results for the course were good, “Straight fours overall,” she says.

“Overall what?” he inquires.

There was a truly gruesome Queensland Bar dinner with various members rendering Gilbert & Sullivan, reciting poetry and ditties (“I’m a little tea pot”). Most thrilling of all, we saw Daphnis “Two Wigs” de Jersey in a breathtaking, off-centre Madame Pompidour.

Episode two wasn’t nearly as arousing. Titled On Your Feet it followed Sarah as she embarks on life as a duty barrister at the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Under the tutelage of BMW-driving (numberplate LAW 80) criminal brief Stephen Durley (“king of the bullshit”), Sarah gets to appear for an assortment of drug addicts, bong hoarders and a young man of artistic persuasion who has thoughtfully decorated a walkway at the Brizzie Magistrates Court with the word “CUNTZ”.

It’s all great stuff, particularly since it happened before one of the most “easily provoked” magistrates ever to rasp onto the small screen.

By end of the second episode, Sarah has been successfully inducted. A life of (petty) crime awaits her.

As it happened, the behind the scenes dramas were as distracting as the on-screen variety. There were dark mutterings from authorities at the Queensland Bar and Grill about those who decided to appear on the documentary and Sarah Laikind was warned off assisting with any publicity for the series. To do so, she was admonished, would be to publicise herself. Heaven forbid.

Episode three The Right Side of the Street is a treat for next Tuesday, dealing as it does with who makes it and who doesn’t into the hallowed ranks of the silken ones, and importantly why, or why not.

In Brisbane we follow the fortunes of David Andrews, son of a former Chief Justice, who has applied for silk along with three others from his chambers.

In Sydney we meet newly appointed SC Howard Insall in his sumptuous Phillip Street digs. There isn’t a “wrong side” of Phillip Street, he says.

We even get to see Howard and the little Insalls at home with their piano practice and being fed broccoli for dinner. We’re privy to the fact that Howard makes his children sign “affidavits” for the upkeep of their pet rabbit. “I (little Insall) do hereby solemnly swear if I get a rabbit to be responsible for the said rabbit.”

Woven into these two stories of half-naked ambition are comments from other would-be silks from the viperish world of the Sydney and Brisbane bars.

It appears family background, schooling and gender are still as important as capacity and experience.

The camera is right in there as David Andrews receives and opens the envelope with the vital news from the Bar Association.

The episode closes with Howard’s swearing in. It’s a very big wig day for all concerned, but not one of them looks vaguely embarrassed. Must be the imminent tripling of their fees.

The vaudevillian music composed for the series by Peter Dasent was a particular treat.

Episode four won’t go to air just yet, if at all. Called The Boiler Room it featured one of Clive Evatt’s (left) defamation actions and a murder in which Carolyn Davenport defended an accused found guilty of murdering a petrol station attendant near Ryde in Sydney.

Two problems arose. The case of Strasberg v Westfield Ltd was a claim for defamation and false imprisonment after employees of the mall giant allegedly approached the plaintiff to raise concerns about the “provocative, inappropriate and offensive” length of her mini-skirt. The jury trial component of the case won’t take place until November and Clayton Utz advised the ABC that to air this episode before then would amount to a possible sub judice contempt.

The murder case was complicated by the need to show evidence of the crime captured by video camera. There was so much blue language used on the video that it was deemed inappropriate for the 8 pm timeslot.

Dealing with lawyers to get the series to air proved Simon Target’s ultimate nightmare. He’s now making a cooking series for Aunty. Much less stress.

I. Box