The Crown Court

[WARNING: the subject matter of this post is not suitable for children]

Some of the facts I mention below may have blurred slightly. I watched the case for three consecutive days without making a note, as I don’t think it is allowed, unless permission from the judge is granted beforehand. I am writing this post now, afterwards. Therefore, some information may be incorrect.

Ever since my first experience of the legal system back at the Royal Courts of Justice, I have had the growing desire to witness all three tiers of the legal system.

To a degree, for me, there is a fascination with the actual contents of a case. Someone has been accused of conducting themselves in a criminal manner. Listening to the intrinsic details laid out of a case in which the defendant is accused of either rape, grievous bodily harm, drug smuggling, driving-related offences or fraud, or many, many, many others is fascinating because I think it makes me realise how precarious and risky the world is. This risk can come from being the victim of a crime but also from falsely being accused of being the perpetrator.

The magnitude of cases differs depending on the type of court in which they appear. The most severe I witnessed back September 2015 when I attended the Royal Courts of Justice. Just a few months ago that I attended Northampton Magistrates’ Court and just a few weeks ago, Wellingborough’s one too. I was missing the middle tier.

I wanted to watch a Crown Court case.

On Monday 16th July, I awoke and got ready and had a lift with my sister to Northampton. I got to the court just before 9am and tried to familiarise myself with the information in front of me. It seemed a little overwhelming at first. The screen had the listings of the court hearings of this upcoming day. Side note: the Magistrates’ courts should do the same. In the magistrates’ courts I have been in, this information seems hidden away. Anyway, in the end, I had to ask a few people who were, in the majority, amiable and imparted information to help me understand the process. A court usher I spoke to was so short tempered, sour and rude. Why are there people like that in life? She, by the nature of her job, understands the court system and all its working and is more accessible, to me, for example, than the judge, or the busy barristers. I understand she would have been busy but taking about 30 seconds or less from her day isn’t going to change the universe.

I found out that the first court, and the last, so court 1 and I think court 7 are family courts. Owing to the nature of what is discussed, public access to these is sometimes restricted. All the others, I was told, were criminal courts and I could enter as I pleased, unless instructed otherwise by a sign. It seemed quite daunting, or a little bit daunting, not knowing if there would be a reaction, as in heads turning, if I were to just stroll into a court room. There was though absolutely no need to feel this apprehension.

I got my mind around the court listings. I wanted to see a full trial, and so, I sat outside a court room ready for commencement just after 11am. The usher (the one I took a disliking to), called in the defendant. A friend of his followed him in and I then entered. The defendant was instructed to sit towards the back, with two barristers midway between him and the empty judge’s seat and the court clerk (I think that was her role), was sitting and facing us. This usher was sat parallel to me. Once the judge was ready, the court usher shouted “All rise” to which everyone stood, and those acquainted to the court all gave a nod. A few months ago at the magistrates’ court, I found out that this is not giving a nod to the judge but in fact nodding to the crown crest which adorned the wall. So, after the judge walked in and sat, we all sat down too. Immediately I got the sense that it was his court room. It was interesting the level of respect that he had from the barristers. I liked the set up. They addressed him as “your honour” and never spoke out of turn. If there was a request to speak, or if they were being spoken to, they would stand up. The judge did allow for everyone to take off their wigs and gowns owing to the unusually hot weather – or maybe this move just just so he could take off his own though.

The court case, to me, seemed very long. I decided I was going to watch a case from start to finish. This case lasted for three days. I had heard that this case, in comparison to others was in fact very short. The case could have been further complicated, with the following extended: the number of pieces of evidence may have been greater, as well as the cross-examinations, the legal advice, the summary of the case and then the deliberation of the jury. Luckiy, for this case deliberation was only a couple of hours.

In brief, the accusation was of three counts of non-consensual sexual touching, with one count being penetration by the finger, or fingers. He was accused of touching of the breasts, of fingering the vagina and rubbing the penis around the vaginal area, and then ejaculating on this area. The defendant admitted to the claim of some form of sexual contact, notably with some differences in the accounts which happened. In his evidence he claimed that the sexual contact was two way, as in the effect,consent was given, and it involved her masturbating his penis, him fingering her, but then ejaculating on her hands and not rubbing his penis on her vagina. She then rubbed the ejaculate onto her dress.

Before any proceeding began, the judge ensured the defendant was firstly locked away in the cell room at the back of the court, and then welcomed in the jury. This was formed of 12 random members of the public. I didn’t realise that they gather 17 firstly, in case some are unable to attend. I am not sure if these left over people go to be the jury on another case but the names for this one were randomly selected and only 12 of these people sat down.

The judge explained to them their importance and their role within the legal system. He said that he was the judge of the legal matters but they were the ones making the decision on the case. There was a lengthy discussion about what the jury must and mustn’t do and then a description and explanation of what was going to happen next.

Firstly, a video recording of the claimant was played which we watched for about half an hour. Then she came in to give evidence, but requested she give this evidence from behind a curtain. Then her partner gave some evidence.

Then the defendant had his chance to speak.

I cannot remember exactly when they spoke but during these pieces of evidence being shown or given, there was intense and rigorous points and “questions” made by the prosecution and the defence barristers, in the form of cross examination. I use the inverted commas here because the questions, carried a deeper meaning and suggestion.

The judge gave, over the length of a few pages, some legal advice. He formulated this in the main, and then asked for the barristers’ input, and comment and any further points he may have missed. He explained the law to the jury surrounding consent, and explained the role of alcohol played in the case as well as making numerous other points.

The judge then summarised the case. He stated the facts that had been given and I suppose, gave a chronology of the case. He mentioned the inconsistencies in the separate pieces of evidence given. Before he began this summary, he ensured to state yet again that he is only the judge of the legal matters and it is the jury who are the judge of the innocence or guilt of the defendant. Basically, he was suggesting here that his summary of events should be taken with a pinch of salt as he may place an emphasis, by simply mentioning it, on a piece of evidence and then if he were to forgot to mention something, by this same logical, under-play its importance. The judge reminded the jury of the system that everyone is “innocent until proven guilty” and it is the prosecution’s role, therefore, through evidence and the cross-examination of it, to convince the jury that there is complete guilt. If this cannot be judged by all members of the jury, he cannot be found entirely guilty.

I hope to never ever commit or be accused of committing a crime – the impact of being dragged through the court system must be enormous. The emotional strain must be so high. The above incident happened all the way back in December 2015. The combination of any delay, the actual court case itself, and one which drags on for ages must be exhausting and horrendous. For reasons fully unbeknown to me, the case had been adjourned twice before. I surmise it was due to the workload of the court, the lengthy time of the case as further explained above, and then trying to ensure it could be seen by one judge in the time it is likely to last.

I recommend to anyone with some free time to go and watch a court case. Whichever level, being witness to the court proceedings, I think, is vital. Not only are you ensuring that the system is just and fair, by being present, but you are also understanding how everything works. It is a system that most of the population don’t have any contact with and can see quite quaint and even antiquated. As it was explained, by the defending barrister, this system we see before us today has been formed on over 900 years of an evolving English, and then British legal system.

The jury elected a foreman. He stood and when questioned by the legal adviser, or the court clerk, to each of the offences asked separately, to each, the entire jury found the accused not guilty.

Thanks for reading and listening,

Samuel x

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