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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Abu Dhabi prosecutors hope crime drama will open up justice system

Real-life cases from local courts used in new Arabic language series set in the heart of Abu Dhabi

Jaafar Al Aidarous, who is the head of ADJD media centre, not only supervised the series but also made an appearance in several scenes too. Photo Courtesy: ADJD
Jaafar Al Aidarous, who is the head of ADJD media centre, not only supervised the series but also made an appearance in several scenes too. Photo Courtesy: ADJD

Abu Dhabi prosecutors hope the new drama, Qalb Al Adala, will open up the justice system to the public, reaching an audience far beyond the Emirates.

The landmark legal drama debuted on OSN Ya Hala Al Oula HD on Sunday night.

Set in the corridors of the Abu Dhabi judiciary, the show follows lawyer Hassan, played by Mansoor Al Feeli, and his daughter and law graduate, Farah, played by Fatima Al Taei, as they look into a range of legal cases, from murders to family disputes.

Each of the weekly 18-episodes are fictionalised accounts of crimes dealt with by Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD), which opened up its case files to producers from Image Nation.

Prosecutors and officials worked hand in hand with the production team to make sure the scenes and events were as close to reality as possible.

“We gave Image Nation hundreds and thousands of cases to base on,” said Jaafar Al Aidarous, head of the ADJD media centre.

One of the storylines features a celebrity played by the renowned Lebanese actress Nicole Saba, who has been accused of murder. While he said some may recognise the story from a case that actually occurred in Abu Dhabi, the details have been reshaped to crossover with the notorious Dubai murder of Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamim in 2008.

“In reality she was not a famous star, she was a normal artist, but we shaped it in a way that combines both Suzanne Tamim and another artist.

“We did not want to make the stories a copy and paste of the actual cases so that people could identify the personalities. And the goal is not to defame anyone. Abu Dhabi is a small society and people might immediately recognise the characters [we had used entirely true to life cases].”

But he admitted, “some spice” was needed to add to the real-life events for dramatic purposes.

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Judicial officials watched the pilot ahead of its screening on OSN on Sunday night. Some changes were made for authenticity, while other fictional details were kept for entertainment.

“There was a lengthy discussion between the committee and producers after they showed us the pilot episode. There were things that they had to change based on our recommendations,” said Dr Salah Al Junaibi, head of ADJD communications and international cooperation sector.

For example, lawyers would not be allowed to visit a crime scene, he said, without special permission.

"No one is allowed to touch evidence without a court order, and some things that we usually see things that we see on TV that do not occur in reality," Dr Junaibi said.

Other examples include allowing witnesses to be questioned in front of each other, and allowing accused and witnesses to argue freely in the courtroom.

“We explained to them that people could get arrested if they speak without the judge’s permission," he said.

“Paying close attention to details was important because unlike other court or police dramas, whose main purpose is entertainment, our goal was to highlight a dose of legal information in an indirect and influential manner.”

An unexpected bonus of being involved was that some officials landed small parts in the series.

Mr Al Aidarous, the head of the media centre, found himself playing the role of a rogue lawyer in several episodes.

“It happened by coincidence," he said.

"The amateur actor they hired could not play the role right, and they were re-shooting takes until 5 am. In the end, the director looked at me and said ‘you do it’.

“After they prepared me with makeup and so on, I stood in front of the camera and did the entire scene. I thought it was still the test, but the director said it worked and gave me more scenes to play.”

The idea of the series itself would not have been acceptable ten years ago, Mr Al Aidarous added.

“When I joined the department in 2008 and told them we should start Twitter and Facebook accounts for the department, they laughed at me," he said.

“Because the mentality was that the court should have its weight and charisma, how can you place it in a drama?”

When the idea was presented to the head of ADJD, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, he threw his backing behind it, the media chief said.

“Without Sheikh Mansour’s support it would not have been possible,” Mr Al Aidarous added.