American Legal Shows and their Influence on the Canadian Public
Growing up, I used to watch Perry Mason television movies and dreamed of becoming a top litigator, regularly eliciting confessions from the ‘real criminal’ during courtroom trials full of intrigue and suspense. As a law student and then practicing litigator, I quickly learned that there is a world of difference between trials and the legal system as depicted on (usually) American television, and the daily workings of the Canadian legal system. Sadly, I still cannot boast of any “You can’t handle the truth!” moments during my cross-examinations.
A recent article in the National Post examined the influence of U.S. legal shows on Canadians, and noted that most Canadians do not understand the basics of our own legal system. In a recent high-profile Toronto murder case, a key witness’ testimony during the trial did not match what she had earlier told police. When asked if she understood what it meant to commit perjury, the witness indignantly answered that she knew what perjury was as she watched “Judge Judy” and “Judge Mathis”. As noted in the article, the “CSI effect” has led to an expectation among jurors that forensic evidence will solve a case. There may also be a “Law & Order syndrome” that leads to false impressions regarding courtroom procedure and legal concepts. For example, many Canadians may be shocked to learn that lawyers appearing in a Canadian court must usually wear gowns (but not wigs á la BBC legal dramas).
The article notes that more legal education in our high schools may help counter the misleading influence of U.S. legal shows. Perhaps another Canadian legal drama like “Street Legal” could also help more Canadians learn about their own legal system.
Thanks for reading,
Bianca V. La Neve – Click here to learn more about Bianca La Neve.