The Court of Surreal

Published Wednesday, 29 February 2012
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Many journalists get that sinking feeling when they're sent to cover a court hearing - but not me. I've reported the courts on both sides of the border. And you never know where it will all lead.

It must be said that courtrooms are rarely pleasant places to be. Victims come face to face with those accused of dreadful crimes. Families watch as loved ones are sent to prison.

At times the justice system can seem too harsh or too lenient. Balancing the scales of justice is a delicate and difficult task. I'm glad that my job is restricted to reporting just the evidence and the outcome.

But some of the most surreal moments of my career have come in local courts.

In one rural court a decade ago I sat shivering as a mid-winter hearing got underway. The window was broken and snow flurries were drifting into the courtroom. At one point the judge halted a witness because the noise from passing tractors made it almost impossible to hear her evidence. The authorities were prosecuting a drink-driver who had been well over the alcohol and crashed into another vehicle. The man gave a ropey account that was undermined by his own wife. She'd been in the car and told the court her husband had more than a few drinks.

The next case - the VERY NEXT CASE - was a young woman being prosecuted for careless driving. It seems she'd been involved in a collision. The chief prosecution witness was - guess who..? Yes, the drunk driver. He'd crashed into her car and now his testimony - regarded as wholly unreliable just minutes before - was accepted by the courts and the unfortunate young lady was fined.

You can't make this stuff up, folks.

It happens to hacks like me who find themselves in courts almost every week. My brother Paul worked as a journalist for many years. He once covered a court hearing that was interrupted when a flock of sheep ran into the chamber.

And veteran north-west reporter George Jackson tells of another local court where lawyers, police, staff, etc. were in the habit of lunching in the hotel across the street. No one bothered to tell a visiting judge, however. So you can imagine his surprise as he listened to an old sergeant give evidence. Behind the judge a door opened and a woman stepped through to ask: "Hand up all those for fish."

Even the sergeant, sitting in the witness box, sheepishly raised his hand.

So, take pity when you see some unfortunate journalist standing outside a courthouse on a cold wet day.

Justice may be blind, but we've had to look at some very strange things.

© UTV News
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Mark McFadden
Mark McFadden

Mark McFadden is a world-award winning journalist based in the north West.

Known for his expertise on Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry, he was the only reporter to cover the Inquiry from inception to completion.

In his spare time Mark is a keen guitarist and golfer (when the weather allows).

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