My shiny little online spot to help y'all keep track of me while I galavant around London.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Old Bailey

Last Wednesday, for a class assignment, I took a trip (along with three other girls) to London's top Criminal Court, more commonly called Old Bailey. It's a massive grand old building--like most in the City--located a block off Fleet Street, a little ways west of St Paul's Cathedral.

We arrived around 10:30am, and entered thru an unobtrusive, hardly noticeably small door on the side of the building. The security guard is a tiny, cute black woman, who remembers a few of my classmates from the day before (they're back just to hear the verdict in their case). She laughs at us, a little annoyed, because we all brought mobile phones--the two who were at the courts Tuesday should "know better by now," she says--and such phones are not allowed in the building, and there is no checking service.

There is, however, a realty company across the street, who will hold your mobile for you, for the low, low cost of 1£. Hilarious.

Anyways, Neha and Rhidi go off to their case, while Denise and I listen to the guard run down the "interesting" cases for us: "There's a few rapes, an assault and a murder upstairs." She says this like it's the daily special at a restaurant.

We go for the murder.

It's upstairs, in Court Room One. The building, though stunning outside, is rather derelict inside, with peeling paint and dingy curtains. The court rooms, however, are the same high ceilings and wood furniture one would expect.

We sit in the public gallery, overlooking the court floor. The slightest noise from the gallery draws angry, condescening looks from the ushers below, so Denise rustling through her bag, opening velcro pouches looking for a pen earns us no fans. She eventually leaves, in search of something to write with, and basically doesn't come back. (As the boy scouts say, Be Prepared.)

So I sit, with my pen, taking notes, alone.

I won't go into the details of the trial, as it would take much too long, but here's the rundown: the young black man sitting in the dock was accused of a series of home-invasion style robberies, with another man. In one of the attacks, one of the men (allegedly, I should say) punched an 82-year-old-woman, breaking her nose. Five days later, she had a seizure, went into a coma, and never woke up. Prosecution is saying she was healthy and that the accused killed her. You can guess what the defense is saying.

Anyway, during a break from the gallery, the few other people that wandered into the public gallery and I wait in the front room. People from Court Room Four are also in there, including two young girls with red streaked hair and tracksuits--tracksuits! at court!--who are sitting next to me, on a bench. They're giggly, making jokes and laughing at each other, and eventually loudly declare the room stinks--and they don't mean the poor decor. There clearly is a strange smell disseminating throughout the room, but the rest of us are too caught up in the seriousness of where we are to be at all affected.

These two girls, however, haven't been as affected as us, and start rushing around the room, giggling, looking for a "less smelly spot." The bump past one older lady, who's sitting, looking at her feet, looking like she may be sick.

The two girls eventually calm down a bit, and go stand in the adjacent corridor, a few feet from where I stand, and across from a very unenthusiastic looking couple. The man, leaning against the wall, looks at them, then starts, calmly: "Who the fuck do you think you are, fucking giggling like that? What the fuck is wrong with you? Surrounded by the parents of murder victims, and you're fucking giggling? Who the fuck do you think you are?" He says this all in an even, though clearly angry, tone. One girl attempts to defend herself with a few stuttered words, but quickly shuts up. He continues: "How the fuck would you feel if it was your friend lying dead, and some fucking idiots were fucking laughing? What the fuck is wrong with you?" At no time does his wife, standing next to him, make any move to quiet him. So he keeps going: "How can you show such fucking lack of respect for your boyfriend when he's on trial like this?" I'm not sure what their trial was about, or how the older couple were involved, but he didn't say it like he knew whoever the victim was--he wasn't quite angry enough for that--but she clearly knew the accused.

The girls then stood, perfectly still and quiet, until called back into the gallery.

A few minutes later, mine was, too. It was interesting to see how different witness accounts and descriptions are, and to see how people describe others. Interestingly, all the older victims and witnesses--most in their 70s and 80s--describe their assailants as "coloured boys," which just sounds archaic to me. And, all lawyers and judges wear the curly wigs, so that was a strange, as well. Tradition's are great, but the wigs look retarded. Interestingly, juries here--dont' know about in N. America--can ask questions, by passing notes to the judge, if there's something they'd like to know. This jury asked a few when I was there, but clearly had asked a few already, as the judge laughed and called them the most inquisitive jury he'd had.

It ran until 4:30pm, so it made for an exhausting day. The case I covered is still active--they were scheduled until at least next week--so I don't yet know the verdict, but will definitely follow up.


Post a Comment

<< Home