Magazine article The Spectator

Caught Out

Magazine article The Spectator

Caught Out

Article excerpt

Low life

Caught out

First thing Monday morning I was in court. No car tax. When I eventually found the magistrate's court, it was like the Marie Celeste. No defendants hanging round the entrance smoking, no receptionist behind the glass in the foyer, no ushers, no solicitors briefing anxious clients in the corridor at the last moment, no cleaners, nobody.

Hearing muffled voices, I pushed open a heavy door and found myself in Court One. Inside, facing me, were three magistrates, two men and a woman, seated in a row. Below them, sitting at a large table, were a gowned lady prosecutor and a representative from the police in a dark suit. And that was it. No reporter, no solicitors, no witnesses, no other defendants, no stony-faced relatives. Just these magistrates sitting there like the last turkeys in the shop. They looked as glad to see me as I was glad to see anyone at all after coming such a long way.

Right off, I was warmly invited to stand off to one side in front of a solitary chair and introduce myself to the court by confirming my name and address. The magistrates beamed down at me from their elevated position while I did so. All smiles they were. Even the lady prosecutor was fixing me with this radiant grin. The head magistrate, male, nice tan, film-star teeth, tailored jacket, gold cufflinks, wished me good morning on behalf of his bench, then he and his colleagues settled back, while the lady prosecutor got the ball rolling by reading out the details of the offence.

If I thought an account of my wrong-doing would send a small cloud across the magistrates' cheerful countenances, I was mistaken. On the contrary, the magistrate on the left wing, whose head, from his neck to the top of his bald pate was scarlet with high blood pressure, leaned in towards his chief, and, shaking with suppressed laughter, whispered to him what I can only imagine was a very funny story.

He continued to whisper and shake with laughter, with brief intermissions to allow the head magistrate to pay attention when necessary to the case at hand, for as long as I was standing in the witness box. The head magistrate evidently found the story every bit as amusing as the narrator did. …

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