Law on Screen Seminar at DCU – Report
To mark the establishment of the Socio-legal Research Centre and the launch of the BCL (Law and Society), the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University held an evening seminar “Law on Screen-The Representation of Law and Lawyers on Film and Television”. The event, which took place on Thursday, Nov 5th, featured engaging contributions from a number of distinguished speakers.
The Director of Film Classification, John Kelleher, took the audience through a history of film censorship in Ireland, dating from the passing of the Censorship of Films Act 1923. Mr Kelleher noted that the office of which he is now Head has moved considerably from a focus on film censorship (cutting scenes of ‘abdominal dancing’ from films like the Elvis Presley vehicle King Creole, on the grounds of the excitement they might induce in schoolgirls) to its present day function of film classification. Mr Kelleher pointed out that, although censorship of films traditionally had focused on issues like nudity and blasphemy, it is only in the last two decades that films are classified according to age, with a resulting emphasis on the protection of children, in particular, that was not present in earlier periods of Irish life from the 1920s through to the 1980s.
Eddie Holt, from the Department of Communications in DCU, spoke about how the public trust in the legal profession had fallen dramatically since the 1970s. This was driven, largely, by social developments in the US and the influence of negative portrayals of lawyers in Hollywood films, such as The Verdict and Carlito’s Way, in which lawyers were portrayed as having broken personal lives, addiction problems and a lack of ethics and morals.
Picking up on this theme, Dearbhail McDonald, the Legal Editor of the Irish Independent, gave her view how film and TV portrayal of the law impacts on the Irish justice system, as she sees it daily in the Four Courts. She expressed concern at the increasing coverage of trials-particularly in criminal cases-as forms of ‘entertainment’, where, much as on screen, ‘goodies and baddies’ are identified in the media and in popular perception, leading to a real risk of the undermining of the justice system. She spoke of the public reaction to some recent, high-profile verdicts in criminal cases, where it almost seemed like the Four Courts had itself become a film set as the public vented grief and anger in borderline hysterical proportions towards both the victims and perpetrators of crime.
Bernard Rogan, BL ended the evening by portraying the reality of life at the Bar. He spoke of the commitment of the vast majority of barristers to ethics, fairness and justice. While acknowledging the difficulties faced in the current economic climate by young, and aspiring, barristers, he reaffirmed the enormous sense of pride and public service most practitioners derive from their careers. He also pointed out that, although the popular portrayal of the lawyer’s life on screen was one of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, he himself had a much more temperate working environment!