Saturday, 1 August 2009

A Court Experience

I have had the very mixed blessing of being involved in a court case for the last three weeks. Justice is something we all take for granted in this country but how it has been achieved has always been somewhat of a mystery to me having never before been involved in any way, shape or form.

The constant referrals to the law books and ensuing discussions have been a real eye opener. The effort involved in making sure that the defendant has a fair trial and is not damaged by prejudice, contamination, collusion, evidence that is biased in some way, or does not actually help either for the prosecution or the defense to the lay person seems totally over the top but is clearly very necessary.

The judge, treated with absolute respect by the court staff and other regular personnel but human enough to instantly dismiss the obvious faux pas worrying counsel when a witness sat in the stand. He had an amazing skill in cutting through the legal arguments and establishing the fair line, which everyone then adheres to is something to admire as is the cross questioning by the counsel on both sides to try to establish the truth of a matter.

So I am in awe of the system, the thoroughness etc. that it involves and the total commitment by everyone to make sure the trial is fair with all parties being supported as necessary. What I was totally amazed by was the apparent time wasting that the current system seems to be unable to avoid.

Once the trial to all intents and purposes was over and the jury was out the counsel and police involved in the case were waiting for a considerable amount of time for the verdict. On the morning after retirement there was a legal question from the jury where counsel and the judge needed to discuss the answer. In the court was a live link video conferencing system, probably just an in-house link at the moment, but it could have easily been used for all concerned parties to have that legal discussion over the airways and then counsel for the prosecution, who has another case waiting and on hold, could have been working on that one. Clearly this would take organization but from this experience I can see that there is time before court convinces at 10am, coffee break about 11.15, lunch break, 1 – 2 and afternoon break about 2.45 when such opportunities for discussion could easily be taken without people having to be sitting around for days waiting. The next trial has to have these fifteen or so minute breaks at the beginnings or endings of sessions anyway to discuss the same legal questions so it would make no appreciable difference to the running case but enable these highly qualified people to be moving forward instead of waiting. In this way overlap between trials would not involve so many people sitting around waiting endlessly in one court whilst another is waiting.

I would guess that the overlap in most cases is only going to be a day or two – as long as the jury is actually out which seems, most times, to be up to a day, occasionally a couple of days but quite rarely a prolonged event unless it is a huge complex trial.

There have been many other eye openers in this whole experience as well – the necessity for about 30 people to bring all of the evidence together to lock another person up for years and years is very upsetting. Even when you are 100% positive that the evidence is true it is a very hard thing to do. How on earth people can do this for their whole lives is beyond me.

In my next life I want to be a court usher! That seems to be the most interesting job in the whole place :0)

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