I'm Old Bailey....

Trip Start Dec 27, 2011
1
9
14
Trip End Jan 11, 2012


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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Flo (Francis's wife) spoke after breakfast and before we left for the day in the Grand Hall of the Goodenough College about meeting the Queen. She was so excited to share her story. Apparently, the Queen, when turning from one side of the room to the other, caught Flo in her sights and beelined it straight to her. It was a nice tale. 

The Old Bailey had more action today than it had the day before, so we were able to sit in on a number of cases. The first case we heard was in courtroom 9 and was about an armed robbery. After the prosecution rested, the defense made a motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the jury could not permissibly find the defendant guilty on the evidence provided. Essentially, the defendant did not match the only description of the perpetrator given by the only eye witness. The eye witness said that the robber was 6'3" (the defendant was barely 5'10"), dark skin (the defendant had light skin), and was thin (the defendant was stocky). Also, the DNA evidence on the bag left at the scene had the defendant's DNA along with the DNA of two other people, and the perpetrator would have left little DNA evidence on the bag because he was wearing gloves. The judge agreed, and, after calling the jury back in to the courtroom, instructed that the jury enter a not guilty verdict. After the verdict was entered and the defendant was instructed that he could leave, her bolted out the door before his barrister could even ask the court for a modest traveling reimbursement. 
 
After the trial ended, we headed down the hall to courtroom 12, which was hearing a case about conspiracy to cultivate and distribute marijuana. The warden let us in to the courtroom, despite there being a sign on the door that said, "No Admittance: By Judge's Order." Needless to say, the judge was not particularly happy (especially when the construction in the hall started and disrupted the court while the door was open letting us all in to the room). The courtroom was huge, and it looked like a study hall with all of the books piled everywhere and the abundance of barristers (each defendant had at least one and the crown had over four prosecuting). One of the barristers for the Crown was questioning one of the defendants for over an hour before the judge recessed for lunch. At one point, the barrister said, "I suggest that statement is self-serving." Essentially, he told the court and the jury that he thinks that the witness is lying. That type of behavior would never fly in the United States. 

Lunch couldn't have come soon enough. Everyone was hungry, and there about half way through the questioning, a symphony of gurgles began. We only had 40 minutes to eat, so we grabbed a quick bite at the Earl of Sandwich around the corner.  

We made it back to the Old Bailey in time to watch a jury selection and opening arguments for a case about possession of a bladed weapon (i.e. a knife). In the hour that we were there, the entire case was heard save for closing statements and judge's summation. Dean Faught said it was one of the worst cases of DWB (driving while black) he had ever seen; I would have to agree. Essentially, the defendant was on trial because his box cutter for work was still in his car when he got pulled over (it was never mentioned whether it was a legal stop). The case started with the jury selection. There were no interviews. There was no questioning. There were no objections. Potential jurists were read off a list, filled the jury box one by one, and were sworn in (as long as the defendant didn't have a narrow objection, such as he knew the person or was neighbors with a potential jurist). The entire process was over in five minutes. 

Both the barrister for the crown and the solicitor advocate for the defendant were terrible (although the defense had a dreamy Irish accent and was pretty cute). The solicitor advocate was not allowed to wear a wig because he was not a barrister. It was very frustrating because the judge couldn't get the order that the defendant changed clothes on the day in question correct. Judge was getting frustrated because he wasn't understanding, and the barristers were not helping the situation. Colleen and I would have been more than happy to help explain it to him. 

Having seen a number of (albeit not particularly fascinating) cases at the Old Bailey, I had a few general observations about the criminal system in place in England. First, the wigs and gowns, having looked sloppy for a second day in a row, are really more comical than professional. The idea of "innocent until proven guilty" is hard to apply when the defendant must sit in a cage in the back of the room. I suppose, however, that being on trial in the first place, whether in the UK or the US, makes a person seem guilty. Despite preparing before the trial with a solicitor, the defendant cannot aid his own defense or ask clarifying questions about what is going on in the trial. In the jury, there were many jurists who did not have a grasp of the English language, and it made me think that I would not want a juror deciding my fate who might not be able to understand everything going on in the case, simply because of a language barrier. It made me appreciate our, albeit tedious, system of choosing jurors.

After the case ended, we were free for the evening. We got back to the Goodenough with just enough time to freshen up and head to Leicester Square to acquire half price tickets at TKTS before it closed for the evening. We bought tickets to We Will Rock You, the musical by Queen. It has been showing for ten seasons now, so we figured it couldn't be terrible. We went to a Mexican place on the Square for dinner before heading to the Dominion theatre. 

The first couple of minutes had me really worried about for what I had paid. The stage was a giant screen, and in a very Star Wars-esque way, words would scroll by, saying things like, "The Time is the Future" or "The iPlanet once known as Earth." Essentially, the plot was that the Internet ran the world and music was dead. Only a few rebels (or "Bohemians") were trying to restore music for what it once was, unique and heartfelt. Where the plot was lacking, the music more than made up for it. Actually, the music was awesome! And the actors were good about getting the audience pumped up and excited. The leads had excellent voices (my favorite song performed was Under Pressure as a duet by them). I waited the whole show for Bohemian Rhapsody....and they didn't play it. Except....then they did! It was kind of like an encore, because they waited until after curtain call to spring it on us. We all left with smiles on our faces. 
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