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Pebbles in my pocket

The pebbles in my pocket

My first visit to court

I’ve never been to court before, having never had any reason to go, either voluntarily or under official obligation, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick.  However, on Monday morning, I entered Hastings Magistrates’ Court on Bohemia Road, partly to support a fellow nature defender and partly with my ‘HOT hat’ on, as an observer and listener.

Unexpectedly, on entering the building, I was asked by a friendly security guard, as part of the normal procedure, to empty the contents of my pockets into a plastic container, hand over my bag to be searched and to walk through an airport type security gate, observed by a security guard.  My coat pockets contained pebbles from the beach, a heart shaped button I’d found and a slightly scrunched up white Peace Poppy.  I was allowed to keep the button and the Poppy, but the pebbles were confiscated.  Then, having beeped my way through the security gate due to a metal belt link, I spoke to the the guard going through my bag, suddenly remembering that my Swiss Army pen-knife-fork-spoon might be in the side pocket.  He told me that if it was there, he’d unfortunately have to confiscate that as well. It was – and he did.

‘I had no idea..’, I said and he patiently explained to me that I’d walked past three posters stating the rules about carrying knives or other weapons into the building.  I’d been so engrossed in talking, I’d not seen one of them – although, even if I had, I doubt I’d have remembered about the pen-knife anyway, as I’ve never in my life seen it as a weapon.

‘Nobody reads notices, do they’, commented one of the staff members, who was clearly used to the situation.

I was taken aback by the level of security, just as I had been when I naively tried to personally hand deliver a ‘please-don’t-declare-war-on-Libya-with-yet-more-death-and-destruction-and-creation-of-enemies’ letter to David Cameron.  As a child, my Mum used to take me to Downing Street as part of our regular tour of central London.  I have photos of a small, chubby me standing outside Number 10.  Decades later, I was confronted at the bottom of the street with tall pointy iron railings, armed police in a booth and security guards and was told in no uncertain terms that my letter couldn’t be accepted.

‘But it’s just a letter’, I said, genuinely puzzled and feeling very uncomfortable around guns and rifles, yet I could see the policemen and security guards had to look at everyone and everything with suspicion and as a potential threat. How things had changed.

I digress – and return us to Bohemia Road and the Magistrates’ Court.

By this time, my heart was thumping and I was trembling inside.  Were people looking at me as a potential threat?  Watching my penknife, which I’ve had with me since my three-decades ago student Inter-Railing experience, being placed in a plastic bag and labelled, I wanted to say, ‘but I only use it to slice bread and cut cheese and to free the odd creature on the beach from fishing wire entanglement’, but then I wondered if I might sound like I was protesting too much and this might come across as suspicious.  I was told that I could collect my pebbles when I left the court, but I’d have to write to the court manager to request the return of my knife.

I walked upstairs, embarrassed that I had inadvertently caused a delay, feeling pretty stupid and was much relieved to see a friend of mine who works at the police station, who laughed and teased me about me ‘causing trouble again’.

After some waiting for proceedings to get going, a public address system voice called the charged person to Magistrates’ Court Number 1.  On entering the court, what registered immediately for me was the design of the room.  On a raised stage, seated behind a desk as if in the ‘gods’ of the theatre, sat two women and a man.  Below them, on another raised stage, was a man surrounded by papers and office equipment.  Then on ‘ground level’, there were two long tables.  The Crown Prosecution person sat in the front one, nearest the bench – and the Defence would sit at the other, although in this case, the charged person was defending themselves. To the side, some seats for the audience – and behind this, a booth, where the charged person stands behind sheets of a clear material such as glass or Perspex.

I asked the man sitting behind me if he could tell me who was doing what – and he kindly explained, saying that as he was retired and his time was his own, he came to the court nearly every day to observe proceedings and see what happened.  He didn’t recognise these particular magistrates, but told me who everyone was and what their duties involved.

A huge coat of arms stating ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ hangs on the wall behind the magistrates’ bench.  ‘God and my right [shall me defend]’.  It’s ‘the motto of the British Monarchy of England, declaring the divine right of the monarch to govern’, according to my Wiki research.  A French motto for the British Monarchy?  Apparently this isn’t unusual, as Norman French was the primary language of the English royal court and ruling class following the conquest by William back in 1066.

To me, the room seemed to somehow represent the system’s hierarchy.  A friend who works in this legal sphere said she felt the same way.  I was very glad it wasn’t me in the glass booth, as it looked somewhat intimidating and scarey.  I’m not sure I would feel I was innocent-until-proven-guilty if I was inside it, where I’d be looking at various people’s backs and those people whose faces I could see, would be many feet above and beyond me, behind raised platforms.  I also wondered how well I might be able to hear what was being said.

The language of the court is one that was unfamiliar to my ears and one I found hard to understand.  I remember a colleague of mine who attended meetings in the mental health sphere, saying that it took them a long time to accustom their ears to the language spoken around the table – and they felt completely unable to hold up the time-pressured proceedings by interrupting to ask what some of the words, acronyms or abbreviations meant.  I know they’re not alone in these feelings, as other people have talked to me about this in other spheres of life and I’ve experienced it myself. Although this verbal shorthand or accepted jargon is understandable, considering time pressures, it can prevent the full participation of some of the  participants.

‘So this means’, I said to my colleague, ‘there are people sitting around the table at meetings, in every forum of life, all around the world, who are there in body, but unable to keep up with or understand what’s happening, as they don’t speak the language yet… And possibly they’ll never learn it… they just adjust their face into listening mode, switch off and long for home-time.’

Back to the courtroom.  The court clerk spoke the language of law, but kindly translated it into a more understandable format for the person involved and their ‘McKenzie Friend’.  A ‘McKenzie Friend’ is a legal term for a non-legal person, who can accompany the charged person and be there with them to offer advice or their insights.  Having worked in advocacy, I know the value of being accompanied by someone if alone, especially when one is faced with a possibly intimidating, anxiety-inducing situation and there are more of what appears to be ‘them’ in the room than there are of you.  The Crown Prosecutor, acting on behalf of the police, was also very pleasant.  The magistrates seemed to me to be somewhat stern and formal.

The thing that I often think about in situations like this, which invariably makes me want to smile, is that everyone involved is dressed up to play their role in whatever life scenario it is. Depending on the role we’ve chosen or have been give in that scenario, which will change depending on where we are, we play the role we think we should, based on training and how we imagine that particular role should be enacted. And yet, underneath all of this, every single one of us is just a human being.  Albeit a completely unique-in-the-history-of-mankind human being, but ultimately, just another human being, like everyone else.  I mean, if we were all naked, no-one would know who anyone else was, where they sit in the hierarchy and what role they play.  I find this strange and interesting.

All the world’s a stage,


And all the men and women merely players:


They have their exits and their entrances;


And one man in his time plays many parts…

[William Shakespeare : As You Like It]

When I went to talk to Bexhill and Battle MP, Gregory Barker, at a drop in pre-Christmas surgery in Battle, I had to keep reminding myself that although he’s an MP and the Minister of State for Climate Change, he is still a human being, just like me.  I had to tell myself this, as I found myself feeling too nervous to talk to him and likely at any moment to start apologising for taking up his valuable time.  When I was young, I was brought up to be respectful and polite to all people older than me and in any position of authority – a kind of ‘speak-when-you’re-spoken-to-and-don’t-question-anything’ training and upbringing, which I still find hard to shift at times.

Anyway, back in the courtroom, the trial was set for the summer and, after re-claiming my pebbles from the lady at reception, I left the building, stepping out into a feeling of freedom and fresh air, wiser and more knowledgeable, with another new life learning experience under my belt.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted 11:55 Wednesday, Jan 9, 2013 In: Home Ground

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Zelly Restorick

    Thanks Jackie. Sent letter to court, but not heard back yet.

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 @ 16:16

  2. jackie oxbury

    Good article Zelly. Have you got your knife back yet?

    Comment by jackie oxbury — Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 @ 14:47

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