Thursday, 1 February 2018
Pandemonium reigned supreme. Everyone was talking at once and the usual reserved ambience of the courtroom had changed into one of tense anxiety.
Almost all lawyers in the room began to speak and interestingly, they were all pleading for leniency for the recalcitrant Defendant. (I was practically the only one observing silently because hey, someone has to do the honours of providing gist for you guys right? 😘)
Anyway, the incredulous and panicked reaction of the lawyers and even other litigants finally began to penetrate the Defendant's possibly drunken haze. She began to realise that she had just committed an unforgiveable faux pas; one that could earn her a one-way ticket to the seamier side of life. Visions of handcuffs, slamming jail doors and hardened criminals as roommates apparently began to flash through her brain. When she caught the gloating expression on the face of the Plaintiff, her brain reset immediately and her entire demeanour changed as she realised she really was in trouble, because why else would the Plaintiff look as though he had just been served a bowl of chicken right there in court?
She began to stutter even as the policeman roughly pulled her towards the door. "My lord... my lord... I'm sorry. I'm not rude ooo, I'm just trying to explain."
The honourable court was done listening, "Take her away!"
The policeman immediately resumed his frantic tugging at the woman's elbow evidently trying to restrain himself from lifting her bodily since she had two kids with her.
"Please sir I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that," the woman pleaded, facing the judge.
Her two-year old had begun to look confused by all the yelling adults and his head kept whipping this way and that as he tried to follow what was going on. He looked on the verge of tears.
The elderly lawyer who had risen to his feet hissed at her out of the side of his mouth to keep quiet. He urgently approached the Bench. "May I as a friend of the court, plead for leniency from this most honorable court. The Defendant was out of line and while ignorance of the law is not a defense, Sir, I plead for leniency. For the sake of her children, please sir. She deserves incarceration because this is a clear case of contempt but my lord, have mercy. If she is locked up with these innocent children... the Bar apologizes on her behalf sir."
Other lawyers were all nodding frantically, wordlessly lending support to his appeal.
The Judge paused, looked around to weigh the general demeanour of the courtroom. Then he cast a disparaging look at the woman, disgust stamped onto his dignified features. "The only reason I'll let you go is because of your children. But I'll be seating first thing tomorrow at 9 o'clock sharp and your husband had better be in court. Meanwhile, you must stand over there in that corner for three hours, that's your punishment."
A collective sigh of relief swept through the courtroom. The Judge was apparently in a particularly fine mood because he tilted his head to the side as though considering and then he said, "One hour. Stand for one hour and keep your mouth shut! This case is adjourned to the 31st day of January 2018."
The unwise Defendant lifted a hand, "Sir I want to say something."
Everyone gasped, including me. Had she learned nothing? This woman shouldn't be allowed to speak in public I reasoned. She was one of those people who had a foot permanently wedged in her mouth. She was very close to my chair so I shook my head signalling her to end the drama now. She tried to speak again but the registrar suddenly leaped to his feet on a stroke of genuis and in an excessively loud tone, boomed the name of the next case, drowning out her nail-on-chalkboard voice.
As the new set of litigants headed for the front of the courtroom, we all faced forward, glad a disaster had been averted. Three minutes into the next case, a slight motion to the right of the room drew my gaze and I gaped in furious disbelief as the suicidal defendant surreptitiously curved a hand backwards and pinched the bottom of the sleeping baby on her back as hard as she could. The baby woke up immediately and began to scream its lungs out.
She let it cry, facing forward woodenly and evidently hoping to disrupt proceedings further.
The Judge ignored her for as long as he could while she fought back a malevolent grin. Then he lifted his head and snapped at his Bailiff, "Take her outside. Let her stand outside for one hour and DO NOT allow her to sit."
The Policeman rushed forward, moving so fast he was practically a blur. He was evidently glad to finally be useful as he grabbed her by the elbow and hustled her outside. The moment the door closed behind the duo, almost everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
The woman had acted as though she had a death wish but who knew what her village people had done to her before she came to court, right? The Judge had been the very soul of kindness and patience; a less tolerant judge would have tossed her in jail and thrown away the key.
Just as all the drama was rounding up, the registry finally discovered my own case file from the archives they had consigned it to and I gratefully turned my mind towards the business for the day.
Morale of the story? You tell me.
Today's performance was riveting!!! Yours truly was seated in court contemplating my fate since the court staff, whether through negligence or contrivance had misplaced my file.
The registrar announced a particular case and from hearing the name of the case alone, I knew there was no lawyer involved in that matter: the defendants had been listed as Mr and Mrs xyz. (Any lawyer will tell you for free that Mr and Mrs is not a person known to law and the suit is defective ab initio).
The Plaintiff immediately walked forward upon the suit being announced; he was his own counsel, hence the ill-advised 'Mr & Mrs'. One of the Defendants, the "Mrs" in the equation, had to be called in from outside the court. She straggled in, dragging a grubby looking child of about two years old by the hand. She also had a toddler strapped onto her back with the aid of an even grubbier wrapper. As she walked, she dragged her feet with every step, drawing every gaze as she went. Her dark skin told tales of mismanagement and poor hygiene and her shaggy hair was a testament to poverty of the dirty variety.
As she headed for the front of the courtroom, she paused to seat her two-year old on an empty seat before striding to stand before the court.
Her entire manner was quarrelsome and reeked of a preparedness to engage in conflict. The Court asked her a few questions and she responded sulkily each time. Finally the Court demanded to know why her husband was not in court since he was a co-defendant and that was when the real drama started.
"He cannot come," she tossed at the Judge.
He waited a beat for an explanation. When none was forthcoming, he inquired calmly, "Why can't he come to court? Is he bedridden?"
"My husband is a very busy man. He doesn't have time to come here."
In the silence that followed, you could have heard an ant sneeze. The bailiff who had been half-asleep in his seat behind the judge sat up straighter; the registrar who had been doodling idly on a writing pad in front of him ceased the motion; several lawyers stopped whispering to each other and turned collectively to gape at this wonder woman.
The Judge's eyebrows snapped together in a deep frown as he glared down at her from the bench. "What did you say?"
The woman continued with dangerous nonchalance, "My husband doesn't have time to come here. He's a very busy man."
The Judge let his silence express his displeasure with that response and her manner. Then he stated calmly, "I'll adjourn this case and if your husband is not here by the next date, I'll issue a bench warrant to compel his presence. Madam, that means if he's not here on the next date, he would be arrested and brought here by force. This is a court of law. You cannot disobey the court."
The woman hit the roof, "You're a very wicked man! Just wicked! I knew from the moment I came here that the plaintiff paid you. So you want to lock me and my husband abi? Who do you think you are?"
"Madam respect yourself! You're in court," the Judge warned testily.
"And so?" She snapped, practically foaming at the mouth.
Brethren, at this point I think my jaw must have dropped to the very floor. Never, in all my years of practice as a lawyer have I witnessed such a clear case of contempt of court. The Judge was beside himself. Desperate hushed whispers erupted all over the court as well-meaning lawyers urgently tried to get her to head off the angry judge with an apology.
One elderly gentleman of the Bar even leapt to his feet in a desperate bid to do damage control but as he opened his mouth, the Defendant cut him off, "Why must you see my husband? By the way did we say we will not pay the landlord? You can't do anything to me! Who do you think you are?"
"Respect yourself or I would hold you in contempt and get you locked up," the Court ordered.
"Madam, keep quiet," someone began.
"Leave me let me tell this man something! You people cannot do anything to me. If you like, lock me. I'm not afraid of you!"
Her voice was so loud at this point, it shook the very rafters. Different court staff from different offices and even litigants in other courts dashed in to see what the howling was all about. Everyone wanted in on the drama. I looked around; every single mouth was open as we gawked at her as though she had just exited a space ship. Even the Judge looked flummoxed. Then his rage erupted to rival hers.
"Madam you're in contempt of court!!! Take her away and lock her up!" The Judge thundered from his bench.
The police man picked his jaw off the floor and immediately snapped to attention, his belly shooting out as he gamely tried to look smart. He grabbed the woman by the elbow and began to haul her towards the door with her two-year old clinging to her skirts.
To be continued...
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