Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Court in Order: Justice and Verbal Duels in the Name of the Law

A judge with a gavel in his hand
Recently I had the opportunity to have an inside glimpse at a court trial. I arrived as a witness to support a friend of mine and to give credence to his version of events. I went to court with one thing in mind: to state the truth, the absolute truth and nothing but the truth.

I have an innate sense of justice and think that one should be completely honest and transparent in one's actions, and whenever necessary accept responsibility for one's mistakes. At the same time, nothing angers me more than deception, lies and hypocrisy, all of which could be summed up in the word “injustice.”

The only idea I had of court proceedings was a handful of movies and TV programs, such as  Matlock and Judge Judy. And in fact, that knowledge, although not completely congruent with reality, did give me at least some necessary and basic guidance about the judicial process.

My first impression, however, was how everything seemed ritualized and how everyone perfectly “played” their role. The lawyers looked and fit their role perfectly. They were well-dressed and carried a black leather briefcase brimming over with their client's files.

The private defense lawyers cordially greeted the state attorneys as if they were meeting at a social gathering event and not at court where they would hash out a fight over the accused person's life and fortune. You could see the nervousness on the face of the accused, but none of that seemed to have impact on the legal counsels.

I must say that my view was that of an outsider's. For them, it was their daily life. And just like a medic cannot -- or rather should not -- be affected by the sight of blood, gore or suffering, the lawyers also must remain cool. If there was pressure on the counsel I could not tell, but then again, they were not the ones with their freedom at stake. And yes, theirs is a seriously high-paying job, soaring figures I do not even see in my dreams.

Then at some point silence, respect, everybody rise because the judge has entered. I was not too sure whether I was supposed to be inside since I was a witness. And sure enough I was kindly asked to leave. No, I was not escorted out; all was done respectfully, gracefully.

I had to spend various hours outside the courtroom until my name was finally announced. Or rather mispronounced. So with a certain doubt I entered and there they were awaiting me. I raised the hand the moment I entered, but was told to do so only when I had entered the corner box.

I was told to spell my name and swear the oath. I saw on everybody's face patience and comprehension. I was a “newbie” and I needed to be guided. It was my first time. No harsh words. Even the judge seemed to have a smile.

What followed was a bit of a show. I was asked questions by my friend's lawyers which I saw coming, and I understood their relevance for the case. Then I was handed over to the Crown. He grilled me with questions as well, trying to puncture holes in my argument. I did not feel pressured though. I was representing the truth and had nothing to be nervous about. And so ended my day at court.

But I took with me a refreshed perspective. Court proceedings lack the flair and drama you see on television. Lawyers and attorneys do their job like any of us. And although there is a solemn air and decorum during trial, afterward there is a cordial atmosphere. I heard one lawyer congratulate his "opponent" for doing a great job and that he always enjoyed dealing with him because he was learning from a master.

So all it came down to was a verbal duel of rhetoric. The one with stronger arguments had won the case. Hands were shaken afterwards, and nobody harbored any bad feelings. It was a game in which you test your skills and knowledge when it comes to verbal and legal tricks and jugglery. The most vital information is not in the black leather briefcase but inside the counsel's head.

At the end of the day, each goes their own way. But the accused is either greatly relieved and a free man or woman or they will spend their allotted time in jail. They have no choice but to take it all much more seriously, after all. 

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