The children had left the television on in the sitting room. As usual, when they take control of the confounded machine, it was very loud and tuned to an obscure channel (I think it was called ITV2). I went to turn it off. Then I noticed that the programme was set in what a modern television director thinks a British courtroom looks like (lecterns for the litigants to stand behind, flags all over the place, a judge wielding a gavel – you get the picture). Anyway, I was curious. I turned the volume down to an acceptable level and watched.
I won’t go through the painful process by which I gradually understood what was happening. I will fast forward to the point at which, having, I admit, got some assistance from Wikipedia, I finally got the point.
The programme was called Judge Rinder. It is not, apparently, a work of fiction. “Judge” Rinder, who seems to be a rather impatient man and therefore not entirely unlike some of our County Court District Judges, tries cases brought before him by members of the public. This afternoon we had a young man complaining that his former landlord had confiscated his belongings, the landlord maintaining he was entitled to do that because the young man owed him some rent. Then there was a young woman who alleged that her former fiance was jointly responsible with her for the repayment of some loans she had taken out. The disputes were of no particular interest, but the manner in which “Judge” Rinder adjudicated on them was fascinating.
There was a theme running through both cases. “Judge” Rinder maintained that only those who produced what he called “evidence” could win their cases. Nothing wrong with that, you say, but the point is that Rinder (who apparently claims to apply real law to the disputes he hears) has got hold of the idea that a witness’s oral testimony is not “evidence”. No, there have to be documents. So, the landlord who wrote down various figures on a piece of paper before coming to “court” was praised for having produced “evidence”, while the young woman who was alleging breach of an oral contract on the part of her former fiance had her case thrown out because there was no document setting out the terms of the oral contract. “You have brought no evidence,” the actor playing the judge shouted at her as he dismissed the case.
But, and this is why the programme struck me as being disturbing, Rinder is not an actor. He is said to be a practising barrister (practising in criminal law it should be said – he probably understands criminal law). And these are real disputes. The “litigants” apparently sign binding arbitration agreements requiring them to abide by Rinder’s decisions. I suppose you might say that a chap who alleges a breach of an oral contract only has himself to blame if he submits to Rinder’s jurisdiction. He only has to watch the programme once to see that his chosen judge does not accept the notion that a contract can be oral, rather than written. Oral evidence, he stoutly maintains, is not evidence at all. And, of course, the terms of an oral contract cannot be proved by reference to documents. So the claim is bound to fail.
But all is not gloom and despair. Wikipedia tells me that, in fact, there are no losers. The litigants are paid by the television company to take part and any awards of damages made by Mr Rinder are paid by the company as well, the losing litigant is not out of pocket (though I don’t suppose that applies to the poor young woman whose ex-fiance wouldn’t pay his fair share of the loans).
Nevertheless, it is a little troubling that Mr Rinder apparently claims that his television programme (which is broadcast every day) is educational, because it explains the law to mere laymen. The good thing, I suppose, is that Judge Rinder is only shown during the working day, so Mr Rinder can never become a “celebrity”.