Rough Justice: Tales from the Bar – 4-part series on ABC TV (4 x 30 minute episodes) in the Reality Bites slot, screening weekly from Tuesday 27 May at 8.00pm.  Episodes 1 & 2 reviewed.

This documentary series is from producer-director-cameraman Simon Target, whose documentaries Uni, King’s School and The Academy have all screened on ABC TV. Having looked behind the scenes at 3 institutions (university, private school and the Canberra’s Defence Force Academy) he now turns his attention to the Bar.

The press notes for Rough Justice promise that the series will “take us inside the cloaked and clubby world of the barrister.” The first two episodes follow Sarah Laikind, who has studied for her law degree as a mature-aged student.  She is finishing her six weeks of the Bar practice court, before applying to be admitted to the Bar in Queensland.

The melodramatic  – and irritating - tango-like music used throughout combined with Target’s sardonic narration, particularly at the beginning of episode one, leads us to believe that there will be shocking revelations, amazing fly-on-the –wall scenes, or at the very least, controversy.  Target tells us that the would-be barristers are entering a profession “under siege from public scrutiny” (an infelicitous phrase).  Well there is a quick look at a rather strange boozy Bar dinner, but it is hardly the stuff of headlines.  Mostly what we see is the daily grind of a baby barrister.

Target has described the Bar as a “very traditional, largely male club,” but (on the evidence of episodes one and two) Sarah does not seem to encounter any problems on account of her gender.  On the contrary, she seems to relish the trappings of the club, wearing her wig and gown with pride.  There is one nervous moment when it seems that a past conviction for possession of cannabis 12 years ago might upset her admission, but that is based on a doubtful “rumour”.  So scandals and revelations are a bit thin on the ground.

What Target does convey well is the stark contrast between preparing a case for a practice court, and appearing in a real magistrates court.  We suddenly see what’s at stake as Sarah, on her first day at a local court, tries to come to terms with each defendant’s story in five minutes. Sarah, who always wanted to be “Joyce Davenport” from the US TV series Hill Street Blues, gradually realises that several of her clients are drug-taking repeat offenders, and that that’s what it’s going to be like, day after day.  It’s a good point, and well made.

For lawyers though, there is not much that is new, insightful or controversial.  The series might be of more interest to a general public which, like Sarah, thought that practising law is just like it is on American TV.