Today was the first day I stepped foot into high court. The Vuvuzela team was scheduled to spend the day at high court to gain experience of how magistrate court and high court differ. The different criminal and civil issues which are dealt with in the different courts and also just a general experience of courts are run.
The first experience
As I walked into the high court we were greeted by security that checked our bags and then a mass gathering of people and attorneys and advocates in the main area. Men and women in their black and white suits holding stacks and stacks of papers in their hands and also pulling an additional bag which I assume had more documents in them for their cases of the day.
The change at high court is that the advocates wear ropes and the attorneys are in suits, at magistrate court it is vice versa. Being around like 100 plus advocates throughout the day, I will admit is quite intimidating at first. There is an aura which surrounds them. They look very educated, very professional and very interested in getting the ball rolling. No one stood around aimlessly.
However, the personal experience I had with some of the advocates today was pleasant; looks can be deceiving because all of them were friendly, talkative and obliging to help.
The first courtroom
The first court room we entered was a motion court, where the advocates appear to the Judge to have their case taken off the roll for specific reasons, or get their case postponed or directed to the correct court. This is a quick and easy process which is done timelessly before lunch, so that afterwards the trials and other mores serious cases can take centre stage.
The judge for the motion court was a judge I will never forget. This judge was a lady and she went against every stereotype I have in my mind of judges. She was straight forward, experienced and efficient but above this she was a human. I think sometimes judges forget their human appeal in court and they treat it as a process rather than a space for interaction.
The judge was very talkative, she took the time to speak to the attorneys; she cracked jokes and kept the court room interested in the proceedings and when a time came when she had to correct something and teach someone she did so giving stories of her personal experience in this profession.
I remember there was a new attorney who was appearing for the second time in motion court and he was very nervous. The judge had a mini conversation with him and made him feel comfortable and told him that it does not get worse, this is the worst.
An awe-shaking experience in my midst
Later on in the day we saw prisoners with chains around their ankles waiting to appear in court for different reasons. I sat two people away from a prisoner of murder; it was scary to know that I was in the same room as a murderer, which I have never been in before.
Seeing the prisoners in general was a very real experience. They were approximately 7-10 prisoners who were accompanied with many correctional officers. I could not stop myself from staring and thinking about what story they have to tell, they all looked like people who had many life experiences to share, despite their crimes they were human beings and it interested me as to how different they were from me, yet the same.
I eventually sat through a trial between the state and a taxi driver, who is suing the state for R150, 000 in damages from the South African Police Services due to a collision of a taxi and police van which occurred in August 2010.
It’s always hard choosing the best information for your story when you have so much information about the case. Today I got all the relevant names I needed and spoke to all the right people and I definitely learned from my mistakes yesterday.
I can write off the day as an experience, a good one.