Following a minor accident nearly a year ago I received a summons not for the incident (I was blameless) but for an out-of-date NCT that the attending Garda noted. So last week I took myself off to a sitting of the Dun Laoghaire District Court to have my case heard. I had prepared a good defence which I reckoned would minimise my punishment. The car had been off the road with a major transmission problem for over six months.
At the entrance to the courthouse on Corrib Road there was a melee of Gardai, young solicitors in smart suits, and various track-suited denizens of the mean streets: the unholy Trinity that make up the bulk of courtroom activity. Inside the small courtroom the female judge sat on high. Below her sat the tall balding clerk of the court - a scrivener straight from Dickens. The judge was a benign middle-aged woman (not unattractive) with a friendly conversational manner. During the two hours I was there she reserved any sternness for the bumbling middle-aged Garda who seemed in charge of gathering documentation for various cases. He was sent about his business sharpish a number of times to augment deficiencies in this area.
The first defendant was a very small red-haired traveller boy who looked about 14 but who, it transpired, was just 18. If I were casting an urchin I would look no further. He was arraigned on a burglary charge and had been remanded in custody due to an inclination not to turn up for court appearances. When the judge inquired about his track record it transpired that he had 207 previous convictions. Now you and I would assume that would be sufficient to keep him locked up but as there were paperwork details to be sorted out the kindly judge allowed him out on bail provided he stay with his mother at the halting site and report weekly to the Garda. Soft eh?
This was followed by a case involving the only person in the room wearing a suit who was not a solicitor. He had been disqualified for three years for drink driving. His shame-faced attendance was to plead for a stay of execution for six months until his daughter passed her driving test - I kid you not. We were told that the man, who looked about 60, suffered from arthritis. There were so many things wrong with this argument (she may never pass her test, she can drive him with a provisional licence, all men over 60 have some arthritis) that I expected the judge to laugh him back out onto the Corrib Road. Not a bit of it - plea accepted, disqualification deferred. What a nice lady.
Next up was what can only be described as a swaggering lout, all brazen chutzpah and spurious attitude. His matinee idol appearance was diminished slightly by an elaborate tattoo running down the side of his neck. He was accompanied by a young female lawyer whose blond good looks complemented those of our handsome devil. His alleged crimes included no tax, no insurance, no driving licence, no NCT and the small matter of having been disqualified from driving on a number of previous occasions. There may have been some speeding offences and drink driving offences thrown in but the sheer volume of motor malfeasance was staggering. He had been in jail previously and it certainly looked as if he would be going back. However, his blonde brief mentioned that he was seeing a therapist for his obsessive compulsive problems and that the judge should consider leniency so that he could continue his treatment. This gave the benign beak pause and she asked had he been given access to the probation services at any time during his criminal career. Apparently not it transpired and the whole court seemed to pause in wonder at this omission. The judge suggested further enquiries to see what the probationary services had to say about this. She deferred any sentencing until she received this information. She did warn our cocky boy that he would probably still face jail time. Not a whit discomfited he exited with a leer.
Eventually my turn came. I bounded up to the stand with my extenuating documentation at the ready. The Garda who prosecuted me was not in court but the mild and bumbling presiding Garda did a bit of paper fumbling and then requested "that this case be struck out". "Great" the judge opined, giving me a nice smile and I strode out reputation unsullied.