Saturday, 7 March 2009

Encounter with the Court Usher at the County Court

I arrived at the County Court at my usual hurried and unsatisfactory state. My tie was reaching down to my knees and this was supposed to be my lucky one. I felt like I hadn’t eaten for 48 hours.

As is usually the case, the Court Usher was not to be found behind his desk, so I rang the bell. Probably racing through the corridors of the building moving parties from room to room, I thought. I always like how they wear security outfits: it really shows that they mean business.

When he appeared, it was from the same entrance that I had just come through. I introduced myself and said that I was here to work.
“You’re late”
“Oh, I’m sorry, the traffic was…”
“You walked here”. I did but how did he know that my facial expression inquired.
“You’re out of breath and I saw which direction you came in because I was outside the building”
“Oh…” I said flustered.
“You can’t lie to me, boy; I know everything there is to know about everything. Now what do you need me for?”
“Could you tell me where I need to be please. It’s my first day and…”
“Second floor. Take the stairs not the lift. Ask for Mrs Needle at the desk.”
“Thank you”

I was at the County Court for one reason only: to meet barristers. Specifically barristers from a nearby set of chambers where I would really like to complete my pupillage at. It’s a Chambers where I did a mini-pupillage at last summer when my decision to pursue a career as a barrister was made. The next step of course is to do the Bar Vocational Course but as my decision came so late in the year I was forced to take an impromptu year out.

In the meantime I have been working at a local supermarket for the money. During this time, I have found myself questioning my desire to become a barrister. With academic study of the law completed, I have found myself outside of the law so to speak. Although, I have often found myself recalling my knowledge of Contract law when remembering whether an offer to buy is made when customers pick up items from the shelves or when they present them at the counter. I started thinking about something else that I could do that could help my career option. The thought occurred to me that maybe I could see if there were any jobs available at the local courts. There was and that is how I found myself at the County Court on Monday morning.

At the desk on the second floor I rang yet another bell and found myself waiting for Mrs Needle. The time was 9.13a.m. Big smile, I thought – still plenty of opportunity to make a good impression. Mrs Needle has to be one of the thinnest women I have come across when she came and introduced herself. She cannot have weighed more than a flower and I prayed that I would not sneeze in front of her for fear that I would blow her across the room. I cannot say for sure what Mrs Needle’s job is: she didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask. We went to her desk which is just outside the office of the Court Manager’s – maybe she is her secretary? But then we were given a thorough rendition of the safety rules around the office, where the fire exits are, what to do with any suspicious packages I saw lying around (I’m still not sure but I’d feel stupid asking) and a whole host of other tips and rules. My favourite was the take-home booklet I received on how to prevent data from being lost – better not forget that document on the bus, I thought.

When we got down to business, I was told that I had been assigned to the family section for the time being. I was introduced to the three members of the section: Kenneth, Diane and Leanne. Kenneth was the section’s fountain of all knowledge and, rather appropriately, I thought was a towering middle-aged man. Diane had been the section’s longest serving member having worked there for nearly forty years. Her story was in her pronounced facial expressions and in the way she moved around the office. Leanne was the youngest member of the team; her defining features were her mouth and hands. Unfortunately for the Ministry of Justice, rather than putting these features to use whilst on the phone and handling files, Leanne preferred to feed herself continuously. These weren’t all the members of the section. There were the same number of empty desks and I was assigned to one of them. My task for the day would be to deal with a backlog of divorce petitions that had to be put into the system.

This proved to be quite an informative exercise actually. My decision never to have chosen to study Family law seemed to be the right one for me because I find the whole area to be just one big soap opera. Divorces, custody disputes, non-molestation orders: its your average episode of Eastenders and I can’t stand it. I did get an enormous amount of pleasure, however, in reading the statements backing up the ground upon which divorce was being petitioned for. Especially the ones for behaviour and adultery – they really stood out from the more the more basic reason that the married couple had lived apart from each other for an extended period of time. My favourite was this 35 year old woman who was petitioning for divorce because she repetitively caught her husband on premium rate sex phone lines. Her statement detailed each and every way that she discovered her husband’s fetishes and the sort of compromises they came to try to make their marriage work. By the end of the statement, the wife had discovered that her husband had moved onto visiting local prostitutes. Ouch.

Before my day was over I had to pass Edward, the Court Usher, in order to leave the building. I had hoped that I would be able to pass without drawing attention to myself but the confines of the reception area and Edward’s watchfulness prevented me from doing so.
“End of the day for you, is it?” Edward asked.
“Yeah and I’m glad for it because I’m knackered” I replied, “How about yourself? When do you finish?”
“Oh, I’m always the last to leave the building.”
“Really, I thought they would have let you go earlier.”
“Who would let me go?” he demanded.
“Well….your boss…whoever is in charge of you”
Edward let out a laugh with his head tilted back and then became serious all at once. “Nobody is in charge of me, boy. I am the highest authority in this building” he said gravely.
“Really?” I remarked rhetorically.
“You bet. I am in control of everyone who comes into this building. Everyone from the judges to the employees at the bottom of the ladder”
“Well, that clears that up then. Goodnight.” With that still in the air, I turned my back and left the building after my first day as an employee at the County Court. Not yet a practising barrister and not even a flea on the Court Usher’s black jumper, I had been told.