Intimacy In Court

Grace Eracleous witnesses an especially revealing scene in the courtroom.

Her fingers poked through the tiniest gap between the panes of glass. The curly haired woman was standing so close to the glass wall that her breath was steaming it up. First her eyes, then her whole face disappeared behind a cloud of condensation.

The judge passed sentence on the woman behind the glass: taking into account that the defendant has already served four months in custody, prior to trial, she is to undertake a year’s community service and pay a fine of £40.

The mist cleared. A voice emerged from the dock, saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ in a tearful but clearly relieved tone.

The judge nodded and waved – a momentary gliding movement that was part dismissal, part open-handed invitation for the woman in the dock to come back into the world.

Even before the defendant was brought into the court, the judge had explained that she underwent a ‘painful and rewarding detox’ while being held in custody.

Meanwhile, in the public gallery, the defendant’s teenage daughter could not sit still: she shifted her body weight from right to left, from left to right and back again. Next to her was the defendant’s father, head in his hands until he plucked up courage to look into the eyes of his daughter – the prisoner. At which point he was reduced to tears.

Waiting for the verdict, the defendant stood stock still, wearing an over-sized grey jumper, oddly tanned, hair running down to her waist, her fingers wrapped around the glass. Meanwhile her prison escort sat slumped into a chair, arms crossed, wishing for this one to be done and dusted.

The scene was unexpectedly intimate: the defendant and her family seemed to reveal their innermost thoughts in every move they made, almost as if they were in the privacy of their own home. Yet this was a public event, enacted in the harsh and unforgiving light of the courtroom.

The discrepancy between these two – public and private – was almost too much to bear.