I had to go to London this week to get my metal hip joint checked with the geniuses who put it in 26 years ago, and what should be happening the day of my appointment – my MP is in court!
So I went along to Southwark Crown Court to see what was going on. You don’t often get the chance to say to a security man checking you for bombs that you’re there to see your local MP in the dock.
I was expecting Victorian gloom, smelling of damp and decay, dark oak benches and a judge thumping a gavel – perhaps with a black cap to hand. But instead it was like a 50s idea of modern: blond wood, beige walls, totally bland – and no gavel.
On Tuesday the public gallery was full – I asked for a chair but no luck. Michael Crick – scourge of politicians of all colours showed his true colours by offering me his seat and said he would sit on the steps. What a gent! But the clerk of the court wouldn’t let him.
Craig was in a glass box. He gave me a little wave but couldn’t offer a chair as I would have been in the dock with him.
So I used the court loos – a bit shabby and didn’t flush too well – and went off to have coffee in Southwark cathedral garden.
I went back the next day early and this time the public gallery was half empty so I chatted to a Guardian journalist who I’d met first during the Farage campaign on Broadstairs seafront. He’s been taking an interest in Thanet eccentricities ever since.
Courts are seriously strange places! Both sides dress the same for a start – how do you know who’s defending and who’s prosecuting when they ‘re all in black and wear grey curly wigs and little white ties and speak with the same accent?
Only the judge is different. He’s in a slightly different wig – not the long side bits like in the fancy dress shops any more – just slightly less curly than the barristers. But he is allowed a long red dressing gown. Which you really needed in court no 7. It was freezing.
The poor jury came back from a break with their coats on and we public all fished our cardies out of our bags.
You rise for the judge, “All rise!” – even I did. Under other circumstances I plead stick-using to keep my seat but here I thought I’d best behave. You can be thrown in the cells for contempt of court.
But the court is amazingly “underoverawing” – if that’s a word. It all seemed a bit domestic and untidy. Papers everywhere and loads of shuffling through documents and getting lost.
We were facing the jury who all looked like nice people – and real, as opposed to all the characters in costume. I’d have loved to have a bit of a chat with them. But that is strictly not allowed. Jurors are only supposed to speak to each other if it’s anything to do with the case and nobody outside the jury should even think of trying to influence them outside the courtroom.
It was all a bit hilarious and a bit tedious at the same time.
And everybody’s a bit indiscreet.
You can talk to anybody in the lift – two barristers chatting about their case (not ours) as I was going to the loo (again – it was freezing) and one turns round and says “You’re not on the jury are you?”
And you think: Don’t you know what your jury looks like? And should you be talking about the case in front of just anybody?
On the way to the loos I meet a lady coming back with two coffees. “Do you work here?” I ask. “No I’m on trial!” she says. No special costume for the accused!
Our trial is going on for three months. At a snail pace. No wonder the wall paper in the corridor outside court seven is ripped, just where someone leaning in the corner every day for months will have started taking out their misery on the interior décor.
I have to go back to London for a special new stick so I guess I’ll be in court again soon. If you go, it’s court seven. Doors open at 10am and close when the judge decides but round about 4pm usually. Take sandwiches and a big jumper.