This past week I got to spend some time in Court. I was there observing, for a project I’m doing at work.
I attended two mornings of District Court. The first day was for case review hearings, where prosecution and defence are supposed to put forward an agreed summary of the arguments in the case to the judge who then can give early indication of whether there is an argument to be heard and if not what sentence is likely. This theoretically gives the defendant an opportunity to plead guilty, avoid the trial before the judge, and get bonus points for an early guilty plea leading to a discount in the sentence.
When the process is followed, this is frequently an efficient way to proceed for all parties. Except of course there is endless pissing around on all sides leading to further hearings being scheduled and cases dragging on for months. This probably doesn’t bother the defendant but for the victims and witnesses, it’s a real cost having to come back to court time and again.
The second morning was list Court where everyone arrested overnight appears including a large number of traffic related offences. This moves through pretty quickly as people are either bailed or remanded and a hearing date set down, or fined and discharged.
Never having had occasion to be involved in the justice system in this way, I found it all quite illuminating and sad. But more than anything I was struck by how boring the whole process is. A lawyer has to show up for half an hour to represent someone who has made an obviously bad decision, usually while under the influence of alcohol, then try to present some kind of case for leniency or mitigating circumstances or denial of the events. This seems like a deadly mix of repetitive and detail oriented work. Likewise for the prosecutor, worse since there was only one of them whereas at least the lawyers only had to represent one or two clients. For the judge, it has to be mind numbing sitting there listening to one story after another with only minor variations from day to day. The registrar who was managing an endless stream of paperwork as well as scheduling court dates and keeping the whole process moving seemed to be the busiest of the lot.
If anyone chooses a career in law and especially criminal law based on what they see on TV in shows like The Good Wife and whatever legal dramas are current now (I was going to write “LA Law” then realised that’s decades old!), I fear they’d feel sorely misled. The same is true of NCIS-type crime shows as a representation of investigative and forensic work. Most jobs are a good deal more boring and mundane than they are on TV. Intellectually I know this, as do most people, but I was still a bit shocked to realise just how much reality differed from drama.
It makes me realise that my own job is actually pretty interesting.