Saturday 20 October 2018

Furious legal eagles hit out at TV 'hatchet job'

IRELAND'S leading lawyers are cringeing over an RTE documentary they say is a thinly veiled hatchet job that makes the entire profession look like pompous fools.

Legal Eagles, the first of a three-part series, has left an atmosphere of fear and loathing in the Four Courts since it was screened last Monday.

The programme - filmed for RTE by Mint Productions - is the first of its kind to be made in this country and is billed as an exclusive look into the world of Irish law.

Indeed, producers had to campaign for months for special permission to be allowed to film inside the courts, where cameras are forbidden.

But the talk among those in legal circles is that the documentary is cringe-inducing television, that reinforces the stereotype that all lawyers are elitist and out of touch.

One legal source said: "This is toe-curlingly embarrassing and self-conscious stuff. One guy on film describes himself as 'upper middle-class' which sounds like he has ideas above his station. And why is he even telling us?"

The biggest attack came from the director general of the Law Society, Ken Murphy, who said that it made participants look foolish and pompous.

"As the programme went on, it became clear that while it purported to be an objective fly-on-the-wall documentary, there appeared to be an agenda," said Murphy.

"This is a hatchet job, but because it is not overtly so, it is more effective. I'm dreading how they will deal with solicitors in part two of the series."

Barrister Barry Andrews said he watched the programme and found it "excruciating".

"It is really cringe-inducing and quite unrepresentative of the profession," said Andrews, who found one barrister featured, Kyle Leyden, particularly embarrassing.

He added: "Who knows? He could end up being a cult hero - there will probably be people going around the Law Library next week wearing 'Kyle Rocks' T-shirts."

Trinity's Reid Professor of Law, Ivana Bacik, was one of those who refused the opportunity to take part in the documentary, which took eight months to film.

She was running as a MEP for Dublin at the time and did not have the time,she explained.

"The way the profession is portrayed is embarrassing, but then nobody likes to see their workplace exposed," said Bacik.

Former TV presenter-turned-barrister Theresa Lowe is another figure who was asked to participate and is relieved she refused.

Legal Eagles producer Carrie Nathan said there was no agenda during filming and that Mint Productions just gave the evidence that they found.

"On no account did we tryto target particular people," said Nathan. "I stand by the programme as being fairand balanced."

Part one of the series kicked off following the fumbling first steps of a bashful young barrister as he began his two-year training period at the bar.

Kyle Leyden, a 25-year-old Northern Irishman with a Dublin 4 accent, talks about the "mapcap lifestyle" of barristers and tells how he has come to the bar with no legal background at all.

"So going into law is really seen as being quite something," he grins proudly.

Couple Ruth Cannon and Niall Neligan feature strongly in the documentary, although both of them only have five years' experience apiece at the bar.

Cannon does most of the talking, but in the few sentences Neligan squeezes in edgeways, he manages to speak volumes.

In one section, he bemoans the unfairness of how trainee barristers must state their father's occupation before studying at the Kings' Inns and adds: "It was fine for me, my father is a professional and I'm upper middle class."

Another young barrister, Sheila Lehane, tells the programme-makers she was drawn to the profession after watching such TV shows as Rumpole of the Bailey. She says her parents told her she would be good at it as she is good at arguing, adding: "You also need some sort of sense of justice."

Filmed holding an open day at the Four Courts, Lehane explains the difference between a barrister and a solicitor to the assembled crowd.

She tells them clients can never deal with barristers directly, the solicitor deals with that aspect and the financial dealings.

"We're not meant to worry about the money, we kinda do, but we're not meant to," she jokes, but there are no laughs from the gallery. Maybe they were too preoccupied with thoughts of how barristers can earn up to ?2,500 a day during tribunals.

One unnamed trainee barrister, filmed in a bar, said people from a certain background become barristers but it gave them the opportunity to mix with all members of society.

"One day, you could be dealing with a woman who has say, three kids by three different fathers, she says.

Legal Eagles is on RTE One, Monday, 9.30pm.

LARISSA NOLAN

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