A Day in Court
decent sized Irish town provides two totally free diversions to entertain
the citizenry. One is the local authority meeting, that is, the town or county
council in session. If you want a feel for the way public life is conducted
in Ireland, this form of amusement has much to recommend it.
The other public forum of interest
is the court system. Ireland has a system of circuit courts to
handle lesser crimes and civil proceedings, everything from parking
tickets to burglaries and assaults. The judge comes to town and
is housed in a suitably imposing premises. The lawyers and their
clients gather, local publicans put on extra barmen and waitresses,
and the proceedings begin.
The Irish RM
To gain an understanding of the
justice system, I attended one whole day's sitting. Among others,
I witnessed a 45 minute court case about a poached salmon where
the primary evidence was the fish in question, frozen solid and
wrapped in newspaper. Four fisheries officers, two lawyers, and
a courtroom agonized over the question of precisely how hard
it was to remove a fish hook from the salmon's mouth.
Another boyo asked the court
to furnish him a legal aid lawyer since he was on welfare and
earning only 105 pounds a week. The judge began questioning him.
How did he get to court?
"In my car, your honor."
"What year is the car?"
"A new Ford Escort, your honor." (Much laughter
since that is a car that cost about 12,000 pounds.)
"That's a good trick. How did you manage
that on 105 a week," asks the judge.
The witness launched into a big explanation
about gifts from his father-in-law to his wife. "How long
have you been married?" asks the judge. The man looked embarrassed.
"We're not, your honor."
The judge pressed on. "You're accused
of taking two large rolls of insulation from a building site
in a van. Whose van was it?"
"Mine, your honor. But, it's three years
Then there was the guy who was
brought in from prison. When the judge asked him why he was in
court, he said "I don't know, your honor. I just came along
for the shpin." The judge sent him back to prison, then
had to recall the police van when a buried piece of paper revealed
the lad was there because he was appealing his conviction! When
brought back, the guy replied "Naw, forget it, your honor."
But Does it Work?
Despite these moments of hilarity, the judge
dispensed what I have to call very just decisions. Fines, imprisonments, warnings,
and homilies were dispensed as appropriate. All in all, I left feeling good
about what I witnessed. For a short discussion of crime in Ireland, click here.
That said, I've followed newspaper accounts
and stories of the courts handing down ludicrous judgments. Drunk driving,
in particular, is treated with a leniency that puts all of us at risk. In
our local court, one hit and run drunk driver who had been previously convicted
of a similar offence, was given a 9 month jail term after he killed a woman
while driving under the influence. And you can read the tale of a judge attempting
by fiat to uphold the abuses of the meat cartel.
In 2002, an infamous incestual rapist was given a grand total of 3 and 1/2
years jail time for abusing another teenage victim.
Despite such outrages and the obvious need to
make penalities for sexual and violent crimes much tougher, it's clear the
court system works and is honest and reasonably efficient.
The Four Courts in Dublin - 2 views