A good judge of character, Fiona Leckerman is suitably impressed by Robert Rinder.
When Robert Rinder calls at 2pm, he reassures me that although the show is on, he’s recording it and will be watching it in the evening. Of course the show that he is referring to sees him transform from top London barrister into charismatic, no nonsense TV judge.
Judge Rinder is the British version of the successful American show Judge Judy and has just begun its second series on ITV. Judge Rinder sees real life people involved in the criminal justice process, that’s real life disputes settled in a TV court room with real life legalities and real life rulings. Rinder sits at the helm of the programme and it is this drama that strikes daytime TV gold providing a fascinating window into how our legal system operates.
Having watched a few episodes it is clear that what makes Judge Rinder compelling viewing is the man himself. Robert Rinder, brought up in Southgate, who recently married his husband in a ceremony officiated by good friend, Benedict Cumberbatch, is neither intimidating nor camp when we speak.
He’s beautifully spoken and exceptionally articulate. He’s also brilliantly funny and warm. So how did a super successful barrister, currently still keeping up the day job, specialising in crime and international fraud law, find himself the star of a daytime TV show? Rinder explains that he used to write TV formats on the weekend and one of which was a reinvention of the 1970s show Crown Court with a reality TV twist, in trying to sell this format to various TV channels he met ITVs director of daytime TV, Helen Warner. It was in a correspondence with Warner that Rinder describes “a throw away, half line in the middle of a sequacious paragraph,” where he joked about being a TV judge that sparked Warner’s imagination and the process began.
When asked whether he feels being a TV star compromises his professional integrity, he explains “ I wouldn’t have done it if there was any sense of a comedy element to it, of course there is a thin veneer of pantomime and there are funny moments, but the cases are totally real where the people are treated properly.” And how does the role of judge differ from being a barrister? “As a judge you have to be as open as you possibly can and do the best to apply both sides of the argument, it’s a more passive experience. The job is to get to the truth and get to the heart of the matter.” He describes that as an advocate the role is to intervene but being a judge is to find balance between both sides.
Filming consists of 8-9 cases per day but there is no implication from Rinder that the process is arduous, instead he takes the opportunity to praise the production team who he says are “really enthusiastic and hard working,” reaffirming that he “genuinely loves it and the people involved.”
On the show Rinder is commanding and his authority, intellect and professionalism are apparent; on the phone he is more relaxed. I ask him about his Jewish identity and his voice dances when he says “I’m very very Jewish, my family keep kosher, they are thoughtful fantastic modern orthodox, my Jewish identity is enormously positive and significant.” He continues “I’m enormously proud of my heritage, my grandfather was a holocaust survivor and to have that at the epicentre of a Jewish family highlights the ethical and moral code of being Jewish.”
He laughs and confides “I’m also obsessed with Yiddish, I even make up my own words.” How has his family reacted to his sudden foray into the entertainment industry? “My mum loves it, it’s fun and she sees I’m happy; I have one complete set of grandparents left and TV is such a big part of their lives that they love it too and really enjoy the show.”
He frequently visits JW3 and expresses just how much he loves Zest; to such a degree he recently took Cumberbatch for lunch, much to the delight of the South Hampstead school girls who spotted them dinning. Living in Islington he jokes that he’s quite far from a local shul but plans on joining soon saying that making the choice is “a conversation between my heart and my head.”
Being brought up in the United Synagogue he says “this is part of my childhood DNA.” and describes the feeling of ascension during the Niella service as a “sonorous very religious experience.” which he’d miss. Although his mother is now Massorti he most identifies with liberal, “We have a quasi kosher home which is a small expression of our commitment to our culture.”
When I ask whether his legal skills are ever called upon to solve a family broygos he laughs and says “We are a loud family who can say what we want and move on, we can shout and scream but then be friends again. I’m incredibly lucky that my family see the world with a modern perspective”
With the third series scheduled for filming in the summer, it seems its all rise for Judge Rinder.