My most recent training day was at the local Crown Court.
I arrived at the court at 1000. As I approached the court I could see six fluorescent jackets outside. Three on each side of the automatic doors. I hadn't seen police officers outside a court before. I have attended Magistrates Court a number of times due to a previous role.
I thought that maybe there was an important case on today that required a police presence. As I entered the main hall way I was met by an airport style security system. There were three metal detectors and approximately three security officers at each gate. I emptied my pockets and put my car keys, mobile and wallet in the basket and walked through, it beeped. One of the guards scanned my person with a metal detector wand. I collected my belongings and continued inside.
There were a further four officers and another officer in a navy shirt, with a firearm.
It appears that security at this court is important.
I didn't know any of the officers in the court, my force is quite large and I may not even meet them again.
I made my way to the 'CUSTOMER SERVICE DESK'. I found it quite amusing that the court refer to it's users as 'Customers'.
There were two people ahead of me. One appeared to be a defendant and was trying to find out if his case was being heard today or not. He seemed agitated. The second was a middle aged women in wet weather wear and was pulling a small case on wheels. It appeared she came to view a case from the public gallery.
When it was my turn, I spoke through the toughened glass to the elderly female behind the counter and explained who I was and that I wanted to watch the case being heard in Court 8. She asked for my ID and pointed me in the right direction.
I wanted to watch the case being heard in Court 8 as I had spoken to a Witness Care Officer (who works for the police, and deals with warning witnesses etc for court) and she explained that one of her cases was surrounding a death by dangerous charge. I expected this to be an interesting case.
I walked up two flights of stairs to the first floor.
I sat down on the galvanized metal bench outside Court 8. The whole building was really impressive. It was a very grand building. It appeared to be a very old building, although maintained very well. The floor looked like marble. The hall way was lined with large columns.
A gentleman sat two seats away from me. I'm not sure why people don't sit on the seat next to other people but nearly always leave a gap. It turned out that this gentleman was the defendant in the case I was watching.
There were many people hurrying around the halls, going up and down the stairs and getting in and out of the lift. There was a clock approximately four foot in diameter about two feet off the ground on the wall. It seemed to jerk back and forth when the minute hand moved.
There are a number of Courts that defendants and witnesses would attend. The Court you attend would depend normally on the offence and your age (for youths). The flow chart below has been taken from www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk
There were a number of barristers walking around and talking to defendants outside of other courts. The barrister for the case I was going to watch appeared to be in his late fifties, he had white/grey hair visible under his off white wig, and glasses with frames around only half the lenses. He looked very smart. His suit had white parallel lines on the dark blue pinstripe suit. He slid his hands in his trouser pockets as he approached the defendant behind the robe that hung beside him.
The clock shook at half past ten. There was an announcement over the tannoy for the defendant sat two seats away to go into Court 8. A few minutes after he entered, I walked through and sat on a cinema style fold down seat behind a wooden panel topped with glass. I could see the whole court from here, except where the defendant was sitting.
Two young lads walked in a few minutes afterwards and sat in the isle behind me. They were wearing tracksuits bottoms and stripey jumpers. It didn't appear that they knew the defendant. I think they just came to watch also.
The court room wasn't as big as I expected it would be. There was a desk almost the width of the courtroom which was clearly where the judge would sit. Below this was another desk and there was a male and female sat on chairs. The female appeared to be recording everything of note, mainly what was being said.
Then there were three rows of benches facing the judge. At one of the first bench was the Barrister working on behalf of the Crown and sat behind him was a member of staff from CPS, the Crown Prosecution Service. It is CPS who bring the charges against the defendant based on the evidence and investigation supplied by the police. At the opposite end of the first bench was the defence Barrister.
The Court Usher seemed to hurry himself around the room picking things up and talking to people. He seemed to know when the Judge was going to enter and said "ALL RISE" I wasn't sure if this meant me or not so I stood anyway.
There were some discussions between the defence and prosecution Barristers and the Judge, mainly surrounding how they were going to approach the witnesses and they discussed the timetable of the morning. These things don't take a few hours, they suggested the case would last over a week.
Surprisingly, the defence and prosecution Barristers got along very well. It didn't appear they knew each other but spoke to each other in a very friendly way. At one point in the discussion, I heard the prosecution Barrister say "I won't be difficult at that part, we agree on that part"
I'd never seen anyone in the court room before, but strangely felt some form of involvement in the proceedings.
The purpose of this discussion was so that the Jury didn't hear any of it.
The Jury were brought in by the stone faced Usher who instructed them to sit on the seats and face the front.
The Judge explained that it was important anyone who knew any witness or the defendant make the Court aware of that fact so they can sit on another case.
The Jury are normal members of the public who are called to do two weeks worth of Jury duty. Only in certain circumstances can someone be excused from such duty.
There was a serving Police Constable amongst those to be selected. The Judge excused him. I can only assume that the Judge thought that the PC would have a biased opinion on the case in question. I would imagine for this reason, he will be excused from a number of cases.
The Jury of twelve was selected. The remaining few were taken out the Court again by the Usher, to be used elsewhere.
The details of the case will remain untold here. Its not my place to disclose this information.
I stayed to hear the opening by the prosecution Barrister. He tended to use the expression "Ladies and Gentleman many times in a sentence. I found this odd, as he was clearly a very articulate and clever man.
The Barrister mentioned a number of things that included how the deceased had died and what he thought had caused it. He outlined the main points to be heard by the key witnesses and even what he thought the likely defence would be. He did however summarise, as I'm sure the Judge would have, that the evidence heard in the court is what must form the basis of the Jury's decision to convict or not.
The opening took the best part of forty minutes. By this time, as the Court had started late, the Judge decided to break for lunch. This was my time to leave.
Apologies for the delay in the posting of this update. There have been a number of incidents in the recent weeks that have been very interesting and would be great material for you all to read but due to the sensitive nature of the events, I cannot write about them at this time as those involved may be identified due to press coverage. I will however, draft the post and save it for some time in the future.
I'm off on holiday next week and will blog about my attachment with a CSI department in the USA when I return.