Channel 4's new docu-drama will open the doors to the jury room for the first time
Makers behind The Trial tell how they managed to bring a real-life courtroom to TV screens.
Twelve members of the public will decide the verdict of a fictional murder case in a new TV series that will open the doors to the jury room for the first time.
The Trial: A Murder In The Family will see the randomly selected panel sit in on the fully recreated court case following a staged domestic killing.
Created by Channel 4 and featuring professional lawyers, the drama-documentary hybrid aims to reveal what really goes on in a court case.
The only actors include Michael Gould, who plays university lecturer Simon Davis, accused of murdering his ex-partner Carla Davis (Emma Lowndes) in September 2015 in Newbury.
Executive producer Jonathan Smith said: “We were obsessed with making it authentic. We wanted to create a dilemma. We deliberately didn’t choose a gang murder or something too dramatic.
“It’s a domestic murder, an almost curtain-twitching, middle England case, to give the sense that the jury are genuinely judging one of their peers.
“It raises that question of where, as a jury member, you bring your life experiences into the deliberations – because that is why we have juries.”
The programme, which begins on Sunday evening, is directed by Bafta winners Nick Holt and Kath Mattock, with barrister Max Hill QC leading the prosecution and John Ryder QC leading the defence.
Neither the makeshift jury, nor the viewers, will find out what really happened on the day of the “murder” until the end of the five-part series.
At a preview screening event, the channel’s head of factual programming Amy Flanagan said: “It’s an extraordinary thing we have in this country that 12 ordinary people will come together and make some of the biggest decisions about the fate of individuals.
“That system is the cornerstone of British justice, it’s a precious thing and we will only have done our job properly if people come away with an understanding of how it works and what happens in that jury room.”
It is illegal in England to film inside a court or jury room, so The Trial’s creators used a decommissioned crown court in Newbury to film and developed the entire detailed case from scratch.
They persuaded the barristers to get involved before picking people from the area “out of a hat” to form the jury.
“All of the most interesting shows start with a question that we want to explore,” said Amy.
“It has to say something about the world that we live in and have purpose. When they work it’s because they get at something a straight drama or documentary can’t get at.”
Jonathan said: “The barristers said they would only do it if it was done ‘properly’, so we asked what that meant and they told us how they prepare and plan their tactics in advance, like a game of chess.
“It’s brilliant. They get the full story and then turn it on its head when it suits the case – it’s terrifyingly clever.
“But the one thing they are very curious and don’t know anything about is the jury.”
“One of the barristers said to me that usually the jury find the right result, but often it’s for the wrong reasons, so it can be an emotional process for everybody.”
The show will be broadcast in hour-long episodes every night until the big conclusion on Thursday.
“We want families to sit on the sofa and argue about it every night,” said Jonathan.
“We have got enough twists and turns to make viewers change their minds all the time and we want them to want to make a call on what they see.”
The Trial: A Murder In The Family begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on Sunday.