Friday 20 September 2019

Courtroom brings a feeling of isolation

By Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

The week before last I had occasion to attend a District Court sitting in Dublin's Chancery Street. I was asked to accompany someone who had received a road traffic summons. She had never been in court before. She was nervous and simply wanted me to go along to support her.

I arrived 15 minutes early and suddenly found myself in 'another world'. Legal people coming and going, people dressed in gowns and most of them with bundles of notes and files under their arms. There were two groups of people-those who had been summoned to court for alleged breaking of the law and those who would pronounce on their guilt or innocence. Court proceedings were due to start at 2pm. A flurry of legal people and gardaí took their positions. They were all formally dressed. And then sitting at the back of the court were the hoi polloi.

As the judge entered the court room and took her seat we were told to rise. The courtroom is fitted with an amplification system and the judge and the court clerk appeared to turn on their respective microphones. But the system was not working and it was close to impossible to hear a word that was being said. Anyone I asked expressed a similar view: they could not hear what was being said. It was not my first time at a court sitting where I could not hear what was being said.

Sitting in the courthouse that day it was interesting to watch two worlds bumping along side-by-side. The legal people were carrying out their normal day's work. It's what they were trained to do and they were simply in their work milieu. And then there were those who had been summoned to court. For many of them, no doubt, their first time ever in court, so it would have been an all-new experience. And that naturally brings with it a sense of fear and trepidation. Also a feeling of isolation.

The court session seemed to have been dealing exclusively with road traffic offences. On the scale of things, there was no big drama, nevertheless, there were many people with summonses who looked worried and isolated. The legal people were at ease in their workplace, doing their job. It was a different story for those who had been called there to explain their alleged wrong-doing.

Of course court experience is not meant to be a walk in the park but from what I experienced that day I was struck by some sort of divide there was between the two groups. The fact that the amplification system was not working added to the feeling of 'them and us'. It didn't help in making for a proper working environment.

It seemed people were being fined €300 to €400, at least that's what the judge may have been saying as it was well nigh impossible to hear what was being said. That day I was in court they were coming and going in great numbers. Outside court I saw a young woman with three tiny children. Her husband had a number of road traffic offences. She looked worried and woebegone. Did anyone care?

It's always difficult for the outsider, the non-expert to say something about a subject where they have no expertise. But that day in court I was reminded of the words of Lord Halifax: 'If the laws could speak for themselves, they would complain of the lawyers in the first place.'

Wexford People

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