Crime pays - if you're a TV script writer. Pick any evening of the week and you'll find a schedule peppered with their intuitive cops, stubborn pathologists and a seemingly endless line of serial killers. Combine that with news headlines of only the most eye-popping crimes and it's easy to see why awareness of crime and the judicial system can be so distorted.
One programme that tries to encourage a deeper understanding of what goes on in court is the docu-drama series, See You In Court. Now in its second series, the programme grew out of a project in south London to help children gain a greater awareness of the workings of the youth justice system.
Filmed in Bexley court, the programme recreates typical youth trials using almost 100 non-professional child actors from Greenwich and Bexley. In a move to appeal to the targeted age group, the children play not only the defendants but witnesses, magistrates, clerks and lawyers. The only adults allowed to intrude on the action are real police officers and the narrator, Chris Jarvis.
This episode features gangs, teenage feuds and graffiti. Like all the best TV trials, viewers' opinions swing from guilty to not guilty and back as each new witness takes the stand.
Viewers can watch some pretty tough cross-examinations, discover why creating doubt rather than proving innocence is important, and listen to closing speeches and discussions on appropriate sentences.
This is not one for students interested in points of law, but with stories on burglary, stolen goods and animal cruelty in future episodes, See You in Court provides a great springboard for discussion on law and order issues.
SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT History Quest. BBC Knowledge. Mondays, 8-8.30pm
History Quest, a new series of investigations introduced by Rory McGrath, is getting into its stride; it contiues through this month and next.
It starts with a historical question - for example, were the Luddites just men trying to protect their jobs and wages, or were they part of a wider conspiracy to overthrow the government? The investigation uses a range of sources: museums, both traditional and reconstructive; historians, librarians and archivists; and documentary evidence.
In this case, the modern, "history experience" museum in Colne Valley provided useful evidence about the work of "croppers", the workers responsible for finishing linen, whose livelihood was threatened by the introduction of machines; and we meet "Enoch", the sledgehammer used for smashing the new mechanical croppers. We learn a lot, fairly painlessly, about techniques of research and, above all, that many historical questions do not have clear-cut answers.
BEST OF THE REST Raising the Sea Dragon BBC Knowledge Wednesdays, 9-9.50pm.
The ichthyosaur inhabited oceans at the time of the dinosaurs, 180 million years ago. It looked something like a dolphin, with a long snout and fins, but was a reptile. It was also one of the earliest fossils to be subjected to serious investigation after 10-year-old Mary Anning discovered an ichthyosaur fossil at Lyme Regis in 1811.
so this series, as well as following the excavation of an ichthyosaur in a Yorkshire quarry, provides the opportunity for a history of fossil hunting and speculation on how this particular specimen happened to be preserved.
All this is very informative, though one lesson that emerges is that this kind of research requires patience and attention to detail (as well as disregard for Yorkshire rain). Phil Manning and David Martill, who lead the excavation, explain why they are so excited by this find; but even their enthusiasm cannot disguise the fact that for an outsider this old fish is just a load of Yorkshire rock.
ROBIN BUSS AND YOLANDA BROOKS