What being a court reporter is really like...
|Hint: It's not usually like this for Goole Times reporters...|
For example, Tuesday morning I was at the unveiling of some new playground equipment at a local primary school, then Tuesday afternoon I was at the scene of an attempted murder. That was an especially varied day!
But I try to cover as much court as I can for the Goole Times.
A few months ago I was speaking to a couple who had become the victim of a serious fraud and had wound up as witnesses in a crown court trial.
They told me how surreal it was being in court, when they'd only ever seen court rooms on TV.
This got me thinking about what a privilege it is to see the inner workings of the legal system, albeit from the slightly removed perspective of a reporter, to let you guys know what it's really like.
On TV court is so dramatic. And sometimes it is. When you're waiting for the judge to deliver his sentence or for a verdict to be read out, you can cut the tension in the court room with a knife. There are gasps, there's crying, sometimes shouting and swearing.
I find the clinking of the cells so chilling as you hear it down the corridor from the court room as someone is literally being 'sent down'. But that's not all that often.
A lot of time in court, you're waiting.
Waiting for some evidence, a witness, for the judge to finish their coffee break, for a probation report, for a security guard... there is a lot of downtime!
It can also be quite lonely as a reporter, people in the waiting rooms don't tend to want to chat. Well, this one guy once tried to chat me up, his face was a picture when he was stood in the box and realised I was a journalist!
Though the judges, barristers and solicitors (especially at Crown Court) can seem really imposing and unapproachable they aren't really. It's funny to hear them in the breaks talking about daft things like Love Island. They also regularly take the Mickey out of the defendants as well - many of them have a great sense of humour. I suppose they have to!
Because court can also really take it out of you emotionally if you let it. Last week I was at the sentencing of a child groomer and sex offender and I actually took a shower when I got home as it just made my skin crawl hearing about what he'd done. I wanted to wash what I'd heard away!
As a journalist you hear every gory detail you have to sanitise to the public to make sure it's readable. You hear a lot of awful things you can't report.
But you have to look at it matter of factly even when you hear the most deplorable things - people abusing their own family members for example. You have to let it go over your head or it would definitely get you down. It's not for everyone.
I always say to myself: "It's the judge's job to pass judgement, not mine."
However, I'd say that the really nasty cases where you can't wait for them to be sent down are few and far between for a weekly news reporter.
I'd say the cases I see are divided as thus:
5% - proper nasty bastards - murderers, rapists, child abusers, domestic abusers, fraudsters targeting vulnerable people etc. Luckily I don't see too many of those (though they do make good stories!)
10% - idiots. These are ordinary people who just make a stupid choice. Drink drivers and benefit fraudsters, some drunken assaults etc. Sometimes they have issues that affect their judgement at the time. They just do the wrong thing at the wrong time and they have to pay the price, hopefully it won't set them down the wrong path though, it's just a blip on their records.
The other 85% - Basically repeat offenders who are always going to live a life of crime, be it petty or serious. These make up the biggest majority of people in all courts. They most probably grew up poor or in care, have issues with drugs, alcohol, mental health or all three. They'll have witnessed domestic abuse, didn't do well in school, got in the wrong crowd and just never got out of it. They become the wrong crowd. It's sad to see, but almost all the shoplifters, thefts, assaults, possession of drugs, burglaries etc fit into this category.
So while there is serious drama at the courts - there are heart-stopping moments and stories that make the nationals and stories that our readers will remember - the large majority of crime kind of goes unnoticed and this is basically what the courts are dealing with day in, day out.
If you're a nosey person like myself and you love the drama, and just hearing really human stories, you'd love to be a court reporter.
And anyone can go down and see a trial any time they like, all courts have public galleries. If you're lucky enough to never have been in a courtroom - go see what it's like for yourself!