Places and Non-Places: The County Court of Victoria

The barristers gather along an oak table in front of the witness box, leaning back in their chairs, chatting about their disapproval of the coffee served by the café at the entrance of the County Court. Briefcases and suitcases litter the ground beneath their feet, as if the law graduates are children who have thrown their bags on the floor after school on their way to fetch a snack. They laugh and tease each other like they are old friends, brought together by ill-fitting black gowns and horsehair wigs.
    The scent of cigarettes wafts from an elderly Italian man, smoked in the half hour the court allows as a recess. A pack of Longbeach 25s pokes out from his breast pocket. The stiff-backed rows of seats, joined together to create a bench, wobble unevenly with the furious tapping of his left foot. His son is one of the alleged kidnappers in the case, and his tight-lipped face gives away his nerves.
    An overweight man in his late fifties stands at the back right corner of the room. He leans against the wall until the courtroom clerk, a man with a white beard and a receding hairline, orders the room’s occupants to stand as the judge makes his entrance. The security guard stands bolt upright, a result of years of routine. The watchman is mirrored on the opposing side of the room by a police officer, hired to oversee the behaviour of the four defendants. He sits staring at the accused, speaking to them occasionally to tell them what is expected of them. His role is akin to that of a babysitter, but with better pay rates.
    Materials in the courtroom blend into each other. The neutral colour of the carpet complements the lines of the wood grain on the walls, an attempt at focusing people’s attention on the cases, rather than the décor. Only one clock can be seen in the room, the hands and numbers so feint that they could be confused for a part of the wall. The Coat of Arms of Victoria reigns over the room exclaiming the motto, “Peace and Prosperity”.
Men and women of the jury file into the courtroom from an area that is not visible to those merely observing the court’s proceedings. Marching in two lines, their faces are as stoic as soldiers’. It’s difficult to determine whether they’re taking their task seriously or they’re just bored. These people could are blatantly alike – all of them caucasian and between the ages of thirty and fifty. The only thing that makes them different from one another is their hair colour.
    One barrister arrives late to the room, but struts in with confidence. He bows quickly to the judge without making eye contact. Immediately after pulling up a sturdy wooden swivel chair, the barrister’s attention is focused on scrolling through his iPad. The eyes of the court reporter follow him, not surprised by his tardiness. Her likeness to an owl is striking, eyebrows bushy and glasses full-rimmed, but she nevertheless passes for attractive. The court is banged into session. She begins to type.
    A man in his late forties settles in the witness box. Slouching in the chair while sitting on his hands, his eyes dart around the room, careful to avoid the gaze of the defendants. A short stocky man jumps from his seat, catching his robe on his peer’s shoulder. The two barristers laugh at one another – an apparent hazard of the lawyer life, even after years of cross-examinations. The laughter stops the second the barrister reaches the lectern. The man turns from friendly to vicious, human to bulldog. Resting his body weight on the stand, it’s obvious he has become too comfortable in the courtroom, and he wants the witness to know that this is his domain. His hands absentmindedly fiddle with his white wig, a mechanical function. He marks his territory.
    The tone of the conversation between the witness and the defence is condescending and demeaning. It would not be difficult to imagine the lawyer engaging in bullying behaviour when he was a child. The witness resembles a little boy subjected to a scolding from his father, despite his age and size being double that of the attorney. Proving too clever for the witness, the barrister tricks his nemesis into admitting that he has a severe drug and gambling addiction. They bicker in an unrelenting, informal matter, each man mocking the other until the judge interjects.
    A few members of the jury hastily scribble on the notepads given to them by the court. Others rest their faces on their palms, zoning in and out, believing that being at work would be more preferable than listening to rehearsed stories and snide remarks. The defendants, positioned behind the members of the public, snigger at their defence council eviscerating the witness by poking holes in his story and interrupting his sentences. Three lawyers work together in condescension, belittling the witness’ story as nonsensical, rewriting the events to suit their own means.
    Noticing that the witness in the case is flustered and visibly shaking, the judge calls for a five minute recess. Members of the public chat quietly to the people either side of them, speculating as to which side is telling the least amount of lies. Jury members stretch, yawn, and fill up their glasses of water. The case is far from over. They have sat in this room for days, and they will continue to do so for days to come.

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