Grace Eracleous marvels at the funny things that frequently happen on the way to a conviction.
Life altering events occur in court, so you might assume that the entire judicial process would take place in an atmosphere of strict solemnity and unparalleled significance. But that’s not how it is. Instead, court proceedings are fairly frequently punctuated by bits of ‘business’ which are more likely to make you think of comedy actors. Here are some bits and pieces which I witnessed during six months of court reporting.
1) The guy eating Doritos in an extremely quiet and tense waiting area
Yep, he just sat there, munching on a family share pack of tangy cheese nachos, completely oblivious to the crunching sound he was making, which was easily the loudest noise in a waiting area full of quietly apprehensive people. The eyes of the court officers kept swivelling round in his direction, but he carried on regardless.
2) ‘Oh well then’
Having been informed that the defendant would not be showing up in court that day because the clerks of the court had sent the summons to the wrong address, the judge sort-of shrugged and muttered, ‘Oh well then’ – the kind of forlorn expression which you might expect from a Ricky Gervais or a Tony Hancock (so my grandfather tells me). I was pleasantly surprised to hear the judge sounding more human – almost vulnerable, than the official process would have led me to expect.
3) Court usher running around in a flap
As if every case always goes exactly to plan! On this day – let’s call it a bad courtroom day – anyone who entered the public gallery was grilled with 50 questions about who they were and why they were there. There was lots of shouting down the phone about where the witnesses were – unnerving and laughable at the same time, like the days when your teacher lost his temper and you had to hold back gales of laughter.
4) Dress code is absolute
You’re wearing an over-sized suit walking into court with your hands in your pockets and your head down – you must be the defendant. You’re wearing a Harry Potter- esque robe, carrying a grey wig in your hand – you absolutely are the judge. Top tip to the defendant who’s thinking of doing a runner: hire a wig and gown for the day and I bet you’ll be able to show them a clean pair of heels.
5) Why are we waiting….?
‘The first thing you learn is you always have to wait.’ What the late Lou Reed told us about going to meet his ‘man’, is equally true of being done for scoring drugs (or for anything else) in court. There is always the waiting… and waiting… and waiting, especially for witnesses, jurors, defendants and reporters. Although I know it’s better to be early than late, just bear in mind that after the appointed time you’re going to spend the better part of an hour waiting to be called into the court room. Even then, there’s a little more waiting on the way….