Monday, August 10, 2009

A Different Point of View

I recently attended a court some way from my own to sit with a friend who had a little bit of low-level bother with his neighbours. It was a civil matter, and all was settled to everyone's satisfaction. Although I have spent thousands of hours in court, I rarely see what goes on when the bench retires, and it was interesting to see things from the customers' point of view.
Even though the matter was a minor civil one, with no possibility of any criminal sanctions my friend was seriously apprehensive, and even I felt a little bit of tension myself. The court waiting area was stark and uncomfortable, and would not have been out of place in the 1960s DDR. The court clerk, the usher, and the prosecutor were all approachable when I briefed them on the approach we were going to take, and we were called on quite quickly, by about 10.20. Inevitably, the CPS counsel was at sea, because the case had been sloppily prepared, and he had never seen the file before. The summons was under a particular enactment, but the sticker on the front of the file referred to an either-way offence, which this was not. He couldn't find the Act in Blackstone's either, but the clerk looked it up for him in Stone's Justices' Manual. The matter had taken 14 months to get to court and in that time nobody had reviewed the file properly, probably because it was not terribly serious. The Bench filed in and we all stood up. The prosecutor presented the case as I had hoped, and my friend handed in the written mitigation that we had prepared, three copies for the bench of course, and one each for clerk and CPS. The chairman asked my friend some well chosen questions, the clerk read out the relevant bit from Stones, and the bench went out. My friend started to look worried, so I had a bit of a chat with CPS counsel to lighten things a bit. Then the bench came back with exactly what we were hoping for, and best of all the CPS only applied for £60 in costs. I think that an outsider would have got the impression that justice was done. Shame about that waiting room though.

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