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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018
Southwark crown court
Where you visited and when;
Southwark Crown Court was my chosen court and I decided to choose the Old Bailey for one to compare anything that I hade doubts over mainly because it was the most famous and I had always heard the most high profile cases end up there. Although I chose Southwark Crown Court, both courts played a crucial role in my experience of the justice system. My main target was to follow a case from start to finish and most of them was either receiving a verdict or I had just missed the indictment that had been placed against the defendant; After several attempts of chasing a starting case I decided luck was not on my side, so I observed a few cases and chose the one that questioned the justice system the most in regard to whether it is there to protect the innocent or punish the guilty.
Upon arriving at Southwark Crown Court on October the 8th I noticed several cameras and vans parked outside the court which made me think, just how much scrutiny is the justice system coming under? Once I walked in I noticed people getting searched so I followed procedures I took my jacket off and placed all valuables and metals on the table, I looked at the security guard and raised my eyebrows as if to gesture was this necessary he immediately replied “its procedure” for him it was, personally I always thought this was to put witnesses at ease. Having been searched I picked my items up and entered the hallway making my way towards the lifts and waited in the long line of queue for lifts going to the court rooms, as the lift approached the ground floor I noticed that several people with white wigs where entering the same lifts as me. “3rd floor please” whispered someone. As the lift halted on the 3rd floor I decide to get off as well so that I can have a look at the list outside the court to see which cases would be starting so that I may follow. Although most cases had already begun there was a case that had started not long ago and was also quite new to anything I had heard before. Before I observed the matter being raised I had reasonable background information on both courts I had attended particularly Southwark Crown Court who deals with serious criminal offences as well as cases that have been appealed from magistrates court. Most cases are reviewed by 12 members of the public who are called the jury and all cases are sat by a judge
I arrived reasonably late and the case had begun. As I entered the room I remembered that upon entering a courtroom a polite nod was necessary to show respect to the judge, having nodded I noticed the someone walking towards me presumably the clerk offering me a seat in the general publics area.
The clerk’s role in court is very important, they are the courts advisor and generally control proceedings and makes sure relevant rules are met. Once I had sat down I began to observe the courtroom and instantly noticed that directly opposite me was the defendant’s dock, where a somewhat baffled looking defendant was sat next to a police officer. Further down the courtroom was 12 empty seats presumably left for or by the jurors. I also noticed that there were two Barristers in the courtroom one speaking for the defense and the other speaking for the prosecution both presenting there case to the jury to help them decide whether the defendant is guilty or not of the crimes they have been accused of. In most cases the prosecution is normally presented with a Barrister by the crown prosecution service
All parties involved played a crucial role in the verdict of this case, particularly the witnesses. Once the usher who like the clerk plays a vital role in the courtroom informed me before the jury had returned that she was responsible for introducing cases and telling the court who is representing whom but most importantly and from what I saw making sure that comings and departing within a courtroom runs smoothly particularly for witnesses.
It is often said that the evidence from the witness is a focal point within a case especially when the witness is the victim. Personally for me to enter a courtroom was a very nervous experience but for a victim to turn up in court and provide a statement actions that had taken place against her must have been very emotional. Many at the case would of agreed with me that the, evidence provided by the witnesses was extremely important as it painted and establish the truth. In this specific case there was an expert witness who provided expert analysis on the medical status of the defendant and a prosecuting witness.
Again the Clerk who was very friendly came over to me to inform me that the this would be the final session and that the judge was soon to return and the jury would then enter and listen to a brief summary of the defendants Barrister as well as the summary of the prosecution party
As we waited in silence out came the judge led by the Usher who voiced “court rise”. We all stood the usher walked to the room where the jury had entered faced the judge took a bow and disappeared returning with 12 members of the jury to listen to the final hearing. Aside from the fact that it is in the rule of law that you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; It is also the law to be trailed by 12 good men (and woman in this case) that represent the general public.
In observation both courts that I had visited although briefly for the old bailey I took extra note in noticing that the defendants Barrister is always closest to the jury whether or not this is strategically I don’t know but I do believe that It does play a vital role (empathy by proximity?) nevertheless the final hearing began with the prosecuting Barrister concluding a long speech with “your honour and members of the jury am sure none of us will tolerate any form of lie whether its my dog ate my homework to fraud but what that man(the defendant) has done is beyond human reasoning he has strategically planned to infect this poor lady(victim) with what is a fatal silent killer Hepatitis B” he then went to describe what Hepatitis B is and the techniques used to infect. The language was very vivid and somewhat bullet pointed painting and image of a calculating offender who went out of his way to do the act he so pleads not to be guilty of.
As with everything there are two sides to each story and this is where we prepared to hear out the defendant’s argument. Although looking around the room I am can admit it seemed like I was not the only one thinking he is delaying the inevitable sentence.
The defendant started his closing sentence by stating we must do the law justice and hold tight to the premise of the law; one is innocent until proven guilty
“I doubt that the (defendant) or (prosecutor) was in any condition to have control of what they where doing am sure they both consumed vast amounts of alcohol in a night of celebration, and members of the jury has it not been identified that it was (the prosecutor) who denied the use of protection after (the defendant) had offered not once, not twice but three times therefore I urge you to also consider this…”
Before the jury came to there verdict, I had already come to my own conclusion, which I had dwelled on for several nights. I even questioned someone who I knew in the law department, which goes to show just how much the legal system has to consider in order of attempting to uphold the idea of justice. If one was to analyse the criminal justice system with this case in mind it may be difficult to identify whether or not the criminal justice system can identify the balance between protecting the innocent or punishing the guilty. One says this purely on the idea that if the defendant was to be punished are we necessarily protecting the innocent fair enough if the verdict is guilty then it can be argued that we are punishing the guilty.
Once I had fully understood the parties involved and received the verdict of this case I noticed that within a court room it is not entirely up to what is said that affects proceedings. However, the way the courts are strategically set up and the way the seats are positioned could often place a great deal on the effect on verdicts. As I had already stated above I intended to use the old bailey as a form of comparison to Southwark Crown Court and noticed there was a significant difference in the atmosphere. Whether or not the historical background surrounding the old bailey and the idea that it is London’s, if not the worlds, central criminal court giving those who enter the courtroom a greater experience of justice than that of any other court.
The idea of everyone in the courtroom particularly the defendant having to always look up at the judge often highlights the hierarchical status. The impression I had gained from courts in general was that it may be old fashioned or somewhat ultra modern however from what I saw at Southwark Crown Court was respectively different to that of the old bailey. Southwark Crown Court looked more modern with new seats and new flat screen televisions whilst the old bailey looked old fashioned.
Having said all the above Southwark Crown Court probably deals with over 50 cases within a few hours. Many of them can be questioned on how just the decisions are particularly speaking from the defendant’s point of view in relation to the jury it may have been pretty daunting seeing 12 white middle class members of the jury handling this particular case.
The summary of this case is one that involves a man standing trial for “intentionally causing a serious disease”. According to the crimes act 1958 this is explained as
“A person who, without lawful excuse, intentionally causes another person to be infected with a very serious disease”. This case is similar to one of which I had read in a previous newspaper involving a African man who was sentences at Teesside Crown Court where he received several years imprisonment and while the sentencing of this case ended significantly different.
Despite this case carrying a punishment of a maximum of 25 years imprisonment the jury came to the verdict of not guilty. I am sure that I was not the only person surprised in that court room primarily considering the evidence brought forward by the prosecuting Barrister. Having said this, the reason the defendant received the not guilty verdict was due to the lack of intent and improper diagnosis from an unqualified doctor which meant the defendant could not have intentionally passed on a disease. What confused me the most was if the defendant had advised the victim three times to use protection but was rejected? Does this not state there was suspicion of the defendant himself carrying a disease or was this him just practicing safe sex? According to the jury, it was the latter.
In conclusion what I have experienced and learnt from this court room visit is that the performance of a filmed courtroom blockbuster has nothing in common with reality which is normally much more heavy and workmanlike. One will get a genuine experience of the British criminal system at work, something one will remember.
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