Proper Gander: Court On Camera

Watch some of ITV’s output during weekday afternoons and you’ll feel like you’re being punished for having nothing better to do. One such guilty displeasure is Judge Rinder, the UK’s version of American ratings magnet Judge Judy. A TV studio has been turned into a mock-up courtroom, complete with a public gallery, clerks, and a non-authentic gavel. The cases are real; the sort heard in small claims courts. Someone is trying to get their money back from builders for unfinished work; someone else is trying to get an ex-friend to repay a disputed loan. Presiding over the court is Judge Robert Rinder, who grills each claimant and defendant, then decides how the situation should be resolved.

The programme carefully doesn’t dwell on the lack of legal weight the judge’s judgements have. Instead, it’s all about how waspish he can make his remarks. Judge Judy’s amiable-as-barbed wire approach has been replaced by Rinder’s prissy sarcasm. He very much enjoys playing to the camera, grabbing hold of each defendant or claimant’s mistakes and wringing out a chuckle or a gasp from the studio audience. Trust and generosity are often dismissed as ‘stoopid’, while among his other witticisms are ‘listening doesn’t mean I’m believing’ and ‘I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing near you’. Rinder’s attitude reminds us that the law is there to put us ‘in our place’. Blot out his snarky wisecracks, and the programme gives a sad picture of how the way we relate to each other often boils down to a financial transaction. So, when money isn’t paid, relationships get broken. For all that Rinder aims for a common sense resolution, the contracts and rights of ownership involved are often ridiculously convoluted. Society tangles us up in these knots and then, as even Rinder acknowledges, the law can’t repair the damage caused to friendships and families. What the show does is package this hurt into what’s meant to be entertainment.


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