Grace Eracleous did not expect the courtroom scene to be such a reality check.
A defendant in the dock is the most disempowered person I have ever seen. Once they have entered their plea – guilty or not guilty – everything that happens is out of their hands.
Nowadays we are used to choosing what to make visible about ourselves – a tweet, a new profile picture or a Facebook status update. Meanwhile the defendant in the dock has no choice as to what is made public. Upstairs in the gallery there is a bunch of people the defendant doesn’t know, all curious to know the intimate details of ‘what made him do it’, allegedly. And there’s nothing the accused can do to stop anything and everything being dragged out into the open.
The scene is just like a theatre, and the defendant is the unwilling star of a show he has no control over. Information spoken within the four walls of the court room cannot be determined by the accused, who is in no position to decide whether to click ‘update’. In court, the update will be clicked whether the defendant wills it or not.
Although it is theatrical, it is also more real than many of us are used to nowadays. On show are real emotions, and real actions with significant consequences – much stronger that just another inconsequential item lined up for a ‘like’ or ‘comment’. Facebook – friendly fooling around with friends – it ain’t.
Instead it is raw and intimate at the same time. In court you will see a father cry over his daughter’s prison sentence; you will see a mother held back by Security for trying to reach her son who has just been sent out of reach – for three years.
These moments will afterwards make some sort of appearance on social media – no doubt with oodles of emoticons inserted by sad dad and devastated mother. But by then they will no longer be immediate; and although social media are thought of as almost instantaneous (Instagram etc), their momentous character will already have been lost.
As a member of the Facebook generation myself, nothing prepared me for the reality check which I experienced as a court reporter.
Perhaps it would not have been so raw if I had reported on court proceedings in accordance with the traditional ‘newspaperman’ routine (charges/verdict/sentence – next!). But my brief was to experiment with a new way of reporting on the judicial process, and, whether or not my rendition of it made an impression on the reader, the experience of seeing people caught up in the procedure – swept along like pieces of driftwood – certainly made a strong impression on me.