It’s time to retire, Judge Judy, because there’s a new Queen of the Dock in town. As Judge Rinder, known to his friends simply as Rob, wipes the courtroom floor with his afternoon telly competition, he talks to GT about how he went from acclaimed barrister to famous face, and how deals with homophobic Twitter rants
When Judge Rinder first aired one August afternoon last year, it became an instant ratings hit. Five days a week, almost two million of us tune in to watch flamboyant barrister Rob Rinder adjudicating over real, small-claim cases in a studio courtroom. But it’s the legal beagle’s caustic wit and scathing one liners that have viewers hooked as much as the cases he tries. Has television always been part of your plan, Judge? Absolutely not! But I didn’t want my career to be about just one thing, as that can get pretty boring. I was writing scripts alongside a production company and suggesting various ideas. Then I was introduced to the series producer of this show and six months later we started shooting. There’s no intention of creating a pantomime, it’s an authentic show. Of course there’s an element of drama, but cases are treated exactly as they would be in a small claims court. How have your colleagues reacted to your sudden fame? The vast majority have been pretty good about it. If anybody is ever snobby or supercilious, I point them towards the show’s Twitter feed which, leaving aside the odd moment of homophobia, proves we have triggered real conversations about law. We feature subjects that affect everybody’s lives. What kind of online homophobia have you experienced? I must point out that 98% of tweets are positive, but there’s a really small number of people who’ve posted homophobic comments and, in some instances, quite threatening homophobia. I’m satisfied that it’s never trespassed into incitement of a criminal offence, though. What do you think of the people behind those posts? I used to defend these kind of people, it was my job and so I always feel terribly sorry for them. Nobody who’s homophobic is a happy individual, and there’s some solace in the fact they must’ve spent hours spelling their nasty tweets correctly. Would you ever consider taking legal action against them? It’d have to go very far into the realms of a criminal offence, like incitement to cause violence, before I’d follow it up. If you place yourself in the public eye you have to face the fact you can be the target of criticism and of fools. I’m a free speech kind of guy, it’s what has helped us get gay rights over the years. And that free speech extends to some of the most appalling, unimaginably wicked and moronic people who have to be covered by the same protection. How do you feel about The Daily Mail describing you as a camp cross between Paul O’Grady and Simon Cowell? Well I could do worse than that, couldn’t I? The campery of the show is slightly more concentrated because the cases are edited down. But my problem is I go through life not knowing who any celebrity is. I thought Rita Ora was a clairvoyant. How has the gay community responded to you? I have no idea! It’s not like we all attend a single meeting where I can get a ‘well done on your show.’ But I haven’t had any negative response or concern that I’ve done something to embarrass the community. You married your partner Seth in 2013. How did that change your relationship? We’d been together for nine years before we got married and when you go through practical difficulties or any kind of challenges, marriage gives you a different level of security. It gives you a sense of calm permanence. It solidifies things in a way that provides you with security and makes complexities that go on in our lives less troubling. As a barrister, you must be a confident man. Did that extend to your TV debut? Because I love doing the show so much and the people involved have such enthusiasm, I was desperate for it to work, so I was nervous the first day it went out. Then I just got on with my life and pretended it wasn’t happening! I hoped that people would really respond to it. And do you watch your own shows? I have been watching, as it’s important for me to be able to better frame my judgment. At first there was that stomach dropping concern that I can’t possibly have spent close to 40 years sounding like that and then moments that had me reaching for something sharp. Is your career as barrister now on hold? I’m not giving up my day job soon, but I’ve had to wind down some of the work I did. I couldn’t start gallivanting around the world in the way that I used to, but I still keep my hand in and I’ve some ongoing cases. It’s important for me to continue to be authentic. There are obvious comparisons to your show and Judge Judy’s. What do you think of the competition? Her legal judgments are absolutely impeccable. I’ve never seen her get it wrong. The difference is our show is an hour long and you get to see the real narratives emerge, but they don’t have the time for it on her show. She has a definite opinion straight away. When I get the statements and cases beforehand, I’ll have a strong sense, but often it changes throughout the course of the case as the story emerges. I always approach two sides of the story with a genuinely open mind. You’ve become famous for your witty one liners and scathing put downs… Yes and the only time I’ve truly got upset about something on Twitter was when someone tweeted that I didn’t write my own lines! I absolutely do and they’re completely spontaneous!