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A Day in Court


I have recently spent a period of time undertaking work experience at a local newspaper; reporting, writing, learning and the like. On two occasions I accompanied a reporter on his regular visits to the Crown Court, during which I had the opportunity to sit at the press bench to observe and jot (half-arsed) notes. I had been to that same court previously, though my experience was limited in duration and I had only ever watched from the public gallery, from which the voices below are barely audible.

On this one particular court visit, after a lengthy delay, we finally took to the press bench in Courtroom One to report the sentencing of a young gentleman convicted of Grievous Bodily Harm, the specifics of which was that he quite savagely caused an injury which would leave the victim permanently disfigured. It must be noted that I have omitted both the names of people involved and specific details surrounding this case so as not to cause offence to the defendant, victim or their respective families.

The defendant, a well-dressed young man of nineteen, was led into the dock. Droves of his close friends and family had assembled in the public gallery in support, observing proceedings watchfully with tissues clenched in hand. It was unusual to see the gallery awash with onlookers, though given the obvious possibility of a custodial sentence being delivered the defendant’€™s family would likely require all the support they could muster.

The hearing commenced, beginning with a very short introduction from the prosecuting barrister in which he laid out the facts of the case for the benefit of the judge. The stage was then taken by the defence who chose to present the mitigating circumstances as a long, yawn-evoking speech during which most of the key points were repeated at least twice. Though extremely elongated, the speech did succeed in presenting the defendant as a diligent, generous young man with an unfortunate past and problems with alcohol. These claims were supported by references and evidence which amassed to a pile of papers that sat on the judge’s desk stacked at least a few inches high. Perhaps I am too permissive, but I was beginning to be convinced by the defence’s performance and felt myself almost rooting for the defendant.

Once the defence rested and the judge began his speech it became increasingly clear that a custodial sentence was likely and we were abruptly reminded in florid detail of the brutal attack on the victim and the lasting scars he suffered at the hands of a man in a drink-fuelled rage. The judge concluded his speech by saying that he would be “failing in his public duty” if he were not to hand down an immediate custodial sentence of twelve months in a juvenile prison – a sentence which he had dramatically reduced after reading the exceptional collection of references. The passing of sentence was greeted soon thereafter by the sound of desperate sobbing from the gallery, though the defendant was able to cover his emotions as he was led to the holding cells.

Following a brief discussion with the other reporter and a handful of court officials I jolted across to a nearby pub in the pouring rain for a quick lunch and a brief viewing of Wimbledon. Whilst eating I reviewed my notes. They were a far-cry from comprehensive but they did cover the main points. On returning from my hasty lunch, just as I approached the stairs leading into the court, I spied and instantly recognised the mother of the defendant from the latter trial. She was red-faced and understandably distraught, collapsed on the stairs. Her piercing stare was unnerving and, much to my shame, I was unable to make eye contact as I briskly walked past. I almost felt guilty, but for what I cannot say.

::Andrew also writes at The Robed Scribe::

July 8, 2009 9:19 am

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