I recently interviewed young men for the Courts. They were involved in separate incidents. It reminded me of all sorts. Four years ago,I spent time in Court this week with two boys I had seen a couple of months before. They admitted that they had a fight with a man, but denied starting it and kicking him in the face. I had had a three hour interview with each and believe that they did not do it. This comes from my familiarity with teenagers/adolescents but also with the really awful evidence given by others. Of course, I was not there – what do I know about what really went on!
The witnesses gave very different statements, and what they said in Court was very different to what they said immediately after the incident itself. Thus the boys were described as being anything from 5’6 to 6’1 [they are actually both well over 6’] and given clothing that included hoodies, baseball caps, tracksuits, jeans, gloves and jumpers. They apparently started a fight and kicked the victim in the face. The boys said that the man came out of the pub challenging them and admitted that they hit him. What confused me was that the magistrates accepted primarily the witness statement of the woman who said that the victim had a three inch gash on his head. This was not mentioned by him and was not visible on the fotos taken by his father at the time. His nose/face was swollen but not broken, and he drove home – my feeling was that if two big boys kick you in the face, then your nose is likely to be broken, and driving could be a problem in the short term.
The particularly worrying thing for me is how it made me question, yet again, the definition of justice.
Years ago, my son had a party at the local scout hut. He was 15 and we had borrowed some big 16/17 year olds as doormen. We parents sat nearby and periodically went over to see how things were going. Not good. Policemen seemed to be patrolling regularly. They stopped the boys and swore at them, challenging them about what they were doing. When my husband went to talk to them, they challenged him too. He was on some sort of Police committee at the time, but they didn’t know that and were the sort-of aggressive that helps you to understand why some adolescents are rude to policemen.
A friend was taken to Court for dangerous driving. He had been overtaking a caravan when it swayed out towards him and hit him. But he was a student with long hair, and the driver of the caravan was a regular middle-aged worker. My friend was found guilty.
Society is built on prejudice. This is helpful and efficient. If we all accept that the Spanish are glamorous [for example] or that men are good with engines, it saves a lot of time and energy. But it is not always helpful, and when justice is concerned, we need to take the time to make absolutely sure that truth prevails.
I am increasingly aware that Justice has more to do with who can argue better in and before Court than what actually happened. It was probably always like that, and perhaps only the naive can believe that Truth is Absolute.