Denna text är en del av min stipendiekurs i avancerad engelska för journalister vid The English Language Centre, ELC, i Brighton, som genomfördes i samarbete med Journalistförbundet. Texten skrevs efter ett domstolsbesök i studiesyfte på den lokala domstolen, Hove Crown Court.
As an avid reader of crime novels and watcher of crime series on television, I have taken part in innumerable fictional trials. My personal experience of being inside a courtroom however is very limited, and it is with cautious excitement I approach Hove Crown Court building just before lunch.
As an avid reader of crime novels, I have taken part in innumerable fictional trials. My personal experience of being inside a courtroom however is very limited.
After switching off our mobile phones we proceed through a scanner similar to those they have at the airports. Once approved, we are then allowed to visit the four courtrooms and observe the current trials. We take the stairs up to the public gallery for courtroom two, only to find the room deserted. A lady who introduces herself as the court usher explains to us that there is currently a pause in the hearings. This is because a new document has been presented in the case, which the defence[?] is now familiarising itself with.
While waiting for the trial to resume, we come across Lyndsey, who works as a voluntary witness care officer one day per week. She explains that the act of witnessing can often feel overwhelming and many witnesses are very thankful for the services that she and her colleagues provide.
A witness care officer is mainly there to comfort and support the witnesses before and after the trial. Usually their job ends as the witness walks into the courtroom, but in certain situations the witness care officer may also sit next to the witness during the hearings. In that case however, there is no contact, such as speaking, eye contact or touching allowed, as that could potentially have an influence on the witness when giving their statement.
As we stand there with Lyndsey, there is an announcement over the loudspeakers that the hearings in courtroom two are to begin shortly. An elegantly dressed barrister in a black cape and an old-fashioned wig dashes past us with a polite “excuse me” and enters the room from the side.
We return to the public gallery just in time as the judge arrives. “Court rise”, demands the court usher, and as the judge sits down at the front, everyone else in the room does the same. Just like the barrister, the judge is dressed in a cape and a white 18:th century style wig. This is very different from what things would look like in a Swedish court, where you would also not stand up as they come into the room. All according to a colleague from my group, Per, who turns out to be an experienced crime reporter.
Other than the judge, the defence, the prosecution and the usher there is also a jury of twelve people present in the room, which is another difference from the Swedish system. Members of the jury are chosen at random from the electoral register and their contribution is mandatory, unless there are any specific health or bias circumstances to be taken in account.
Before getting started, the judge goes through a last briefing with the prosecutor and the defence attorney, about the newly presented piece of evidence. Even here, in the severe courtroom, the three of them manage to speak in a way that I as a foreigner would refer to as typical British politeness. As if they were merely passing around milk and biscuits at an afternoon tea table.
Final details being settled, the prosecution call their first witness.
Foto: Johanna Bergström