Court. It gets the most hardened forensic practitioner quaking in their freshly-polished shoes. All that preparation, the statements, that horrid revelation on the landing that the barrister you’ve had a couple of conferences with is otherwise engaged and handed over to a colleague the night before…all building up into a few gut-wrenching hours or days ‘in the box’, being shafted like Saint Sebastian.
Although I kind of enjoy it when I’m in there and in full flow, the anticipation is horrible – why else would the guard in Cool Hand Luke threaten his wards with ‘spending a night in the box’ for the slightest infraction of the rules?
So, along the same lines as my epic ‘Making Reports a Bit More Fun‘, I offer you some tips on making court more fun.
Before Giving Evidence – Waiting to Go On
The first thing to remember is that court exists solely to waste the time of anybody in law enforcement. I know that the defence analyst can also spend plenty of time sitting around, but they don’t seem to have days of their lives block-booked for trials or sentencings that only sometimes happen. During these periods, your options are pretty limited. You can read, but I find the chairs in the landing too uncomfortable to sit in for long. You can’t really watch The Wire on a PSP because it looks unprofessional. Watching the parade of humanity as it awaits judgement can be entertaining for a while, but I find it makes me sad very quickly. It’s still good for a few games though – ‘guess the offence’, ‘gangster or cop’ and ‘smoker’s cough or drug-resistant tuberculosis’ are perennial favourites.
In The Court
Once the usher has leaned out of the court door and intoned ‘Bring in the liar Monkey’, you’ve got even more options for lolz. As you walk up to The Box of DOOM with your bowels loosening, the eyes of the jury will be upon you – try pointing an index finger and upright thumb in a cheeky gun-like gesture and tipping them a wink. They’ll probably be apprehensive, and lightening the mood will do wonders for the cause of justice. The judge will appreciate the sentiment and often call ‘back atcha!’ in a gesture of solidarity.
Next comes the swearing/affirmation. Choosing an obscure text to swear on will endear you to the jury and lead them to believe that you’re a radical, free-thinking type – try the Egyptian Book of the Dead or a biography of Biggie Smalls (if choosing the latter, remember to tap your clenched fist over your heart twice after reciting the oath).
Getting the Jury On-Side
After you’ve introduced yourself (in true Scaryduck style, just stick to ‘My name is Happy Monkey and I am excellent’ – this should be a rough summary of the first paragraph of your statement anyway), you can start with your evidence.
There will usually be one attractive member of the jury, and you should concentrate on her/him for the whole of your stint in the box – lots of eye contact, smiles, hand-over-the mouth giggling and maybe a subtle wink if you can get away with it. Don’t forget to let your eyes wander over her jumper as well. It’ll help to seal the bond if, when asked a question by a barrister, you hold her eye then break off and say ‘sorry, what?’ as if you were too caught up in your personal rapport to bother with the tedium of the court. When the jury retires to consider a verdict, you can be sure that she’ll be on your side.
When giving your evidence-in-chief, you’ll probably have to use a lot of metaphors to explain complex forensicy things like unallocated space, file slack and the principles of web page caching. Try to make these a bit risqué, to enliven proceedings. Remember that it’s your job to keep the jury awake, and humour is a good way of doing this. So rather than using the boring old ‘video tape/long film/episode of The Bill’ explanation of file slack, try something like
NTFS stores data in units of space called ‘clusters’. Sometimes a file’s cluster will not be completely filled by that file’s data. When this happens, there is a bit of the cluster left over that can contain data from an old file that did fill it. This can be likened to a fat man’s buttocks – there will always be a bit that spills out of his underpants, and is not covered by them.
Although this does not make sense in the context of file slack, hopefully everyone will be laughing so much that they’ll just take your word for it. Remember – if you’re struggling, fall back on bum jokes. It never fails.
Barristers can be tricky, particularly the defence. It’s his job to a) make you look like an incompetent fool and b) negate your evidence. They can often be quite aggressive in trying to accomplish this, and you should fight fire with fire. If they’re trying to pin you to a yes/no answer when one isn’t appropriate, don’t give in – but rather than telling the judge that you can’t answer the question so simply without misleading the court, just point a warning finger at the barrister and say ‘Don’t get boolean with me, bitch’. The jury will be impressed not only by your toughness but also by your grasp of the basic lexicon of mathematical logic.
Another favourite barrister trick is to pretend that they’ve just scored a point, then turn to the jury and smirk as if sharing a joke at your expense. The best way to counter this is to mutter ‘prick’ under your breath but loudly enough to be heard. This can be accompanied by an obscene hand gesture. If you think the judge would be offended by this, try repeating the barrister’s words in a whiny falsetto. This gambit will be recognised by everyone present from as far back as primary school, and should win you some hearts and minds.
Sometimes barristers will make reference to computer evidence being boring, arcane and overly-technical. This is usually an attempt to cover up their own failure to read your reports, as well as to curry favour with the jury. To balance the books, you should call out ‘You’re wearing a horsehair wig, you speak Latin and you’ve got a book called ‘Archibold’ the size of my workstation, and you’re calling me obscure?’ If it came from the defence barrister, this can be backed up with a comment about how he’s being paid more than anyone else in the room to understand proceedings, so for the sake of his client’s sanity he should at least pretend to do so.
If things are going badly for you and you’ve got some colleagues in the public gallery, get them to hold up ‘Applaud’ and ‘Boo’ placards to the jury whenever you and the defence barrister are speaking, respectively. If taking this route, try answering questions with exaggerated head movements and addressing the barrister as ‘girlfriend’ regardless of their gender. This will appeal to any Jerry Springer fans in the jury.
The jury will be mystified by the way that the judge sends them out every ten minutes so that he and the barristers can discuss matters like whether the defendant’s habit of chewing a baby’s arm during proceedings is prejudicial to the trial. If you really want to get them on-side, when they get called back in you should explain to them what’s just happened.
During long trials, everyone gets bored. If your evidence is to go on over several days, you need to make sure that you’ve still got the jury’s attention. Try wearing different fake facial/head hair on every day of the trial – a Fu Manchu one day, a ZZ Top the next, an Afro the day after. This is particularly effective if you’re a lady.
To keep things fresh, you can try delivering your evidence in different styles and with reference to popular culture – Gollum is always popular, as is Star Wars. In my last trial I presented part of my testimony in the style of Colonel Kurtz and others from Apocalypse Now. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
Defence Barrister: You began your examination in July 2008, after the arrest of the defendant?
Me: I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.
DB: I’m sorry?
DB: You say that you have no way to account for the provenance of this image from unallocated space. You cannot attribute any date to it at all?”
Me: I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream; that’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor… and surviving.
Judge: Mr Monkey, after repeated warnings I have no option but to send you down for the night, for contempt of court. We’ll try again tomorrow, shall we?
Me: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I’m too pretty for prison, yr’honour!
This post was brought to you with the help of Steppenwolf, KLF, Jimi Hendrix, garlic peanuts (surprisingly tasty!) and a passable Rioja.
I’m going to try to stick to a routine with my postings – a funny on Monday and Fridays and something mid-week. There’s also an artistic treat in store for you, courtesy of a reader.