Judge, Clarence and William discuss a point of law, although many readers might find it slightly laughable. And the good doctor from another novel arrives on the scene with no evidence of anything.
As I have said, it was unusual, before the engineer’s trial, to see anybody sitting on the comfortless wooden seats of the amphitheatre that surround my bench – particularly at nine in the morning. But that Monday, after the mayor was arrested, I was made aware of the presence of an audience, not by sight but instead by the presence of the smell of coffee. Its aroma caught in my nostrils and, although not unpleasant, it reminded me that I had given it up for Lent. And perhaps because of a certain irritability brought on by the lack of caffeine, I felt an urge to enforce the rules of the court. So not bothering to seek out the perpetrators I called out: ‘Clarence, there is coffee in the courtroom.’
‘Yes, My Lady.’
‘I am not sure I can answer that My Lady,’ he replied cautiously.
‘Is there not a rule against it? And is it not your job to enforce the rules of the court?’
‘No, My Lady.’
‘No? Clarence, did you have a liquid breakfast at the Red Lion this morning?’
‘My Lady, the only bar in Albertsburg is called the Jackal en Vel. And it’s a place I only go to on a Saturday. And My Lady, there is no rule about drinking coffee in the courthouse that I can enforce.’
‘But Clarence, unless I have taken to hallucinating since I arrived in this courthouse seven months ago, I have seen, I don’t know how often, a sign outside prohibiting coffee.’
‘Well then My Lady,’ Clarence cleared his throat, ‘well ….uhm I am afraid, My Lady, that you’ve then been hallucinating.’
I stopped paging through the court file in front of me and looked up. I could see through my reading glasses only the outline of Clarence’s figure standing some yards away from me, but even this conveyed to me something of the defiant school boy.
‘Please explain yourself.’
‘I am sorry, My Lady, but as the Jacobsons pointed out to me this morning, the rules as written on the door state as follows: “By order of the court: no guns, no knives, no pangas, no dirtied or soiled miner’s overalls or gumboots, no spurs, no whips, no riding crops, no shamboks, children below the age of 16 are to be seated upstairs”. Then there is a list of the kinds of people allowed in and in which sections they must sit, which you had me paint over with black paint when you arrived, and then it states quite clearly: “no food or cool drinks are allowed in this courtroom”. But there is no mention of coffee My Lady.’
‘But Clarence, the precedent is set with the maxim that “No Drinks are allowed in the courtroom”.’
‘Objection Your Honour. May I approach the bench?’ The voice came from the gallery, and, although it was a familiar one, I could not at first identify who it belonged to. I switched my glasses over in annoyance and looked up. The voice, I discovered, belonged to William Jacobson. I noticed then that he was sitting with several members of his family and that Jean was sitting amongst them. ‘The form of this court, William Jacobson,’ I said, ‘is My Lady not ‘your honour’ and no, you may not approach the bench, as this court is not in session, you are not a lawyer, nor are you a witness, and I do not recognise you as an official of the court.’
‘Very well,’ the young man replied, ‘if the court will not recognise me I must appeal to my constitutional right as a citizen…’
‘That, Mr Jacobson, will not be necessary.’ I felt my voice creaking with agitation. ‘All I ask is that the lot of you go and drink your coffee outside. Coffee is prohibited in this court and for certain personal reasons I want you to drink it outside of my ability to smell it. Is that clear?’
‘Your hon…uh…My Lady, I must object again, for there is no recognisable rule stating that coffee is prohibited from the court. It is a hot drink rather than a cool one. If, however, you wish to appeal to our consciences rather than the letter of the law, perhaps, in fact I know, we will reconsider our position. However, as things stand we are well within our legal mandate to partake in a morning coffee while we come to support our friends, the mayor and Mr Isaacs, in what is quite frankly disgraceful circumstances.’ I smiled at William, who had taken on something of the TV lawyer’s tone.
When I look back at this time, before the engineer arrived, I realise that I had at least some affection for this place. Certainly, Albertsburg had had an inauspicious and violent past, but as I encountered it then, it had much to commend it. No doubt a town, with those people in the court that day, would have been worth preserving. After what has happened subsequently it is difficult to remember this.
‘Now, Mr Jacobson, please sit down,’ I said. ‘My ruling is as follows. You may drink the rest of your coffee, despite the fact that it remains a source of agitation to me. But I believe that when the precedent was set, with regards to drinks in the court, take-away coffee was a practice not widely observed and so its presence in the court was not foreseen. Then again when I arrived the sign still claimed that court seating should be arranged via race; and that certainly was not legally binding despite its open proclamation. However, I will instruct Clarence to make another intervention on this sign and to add the words ‘and Hot Drinks’.’
‘Perhaps, My Lady, if I might be allowed to comment on the wording.’ William Jacobson was back on his feet. ‘Now, My Lady, if I were to prove that my drink was neither hot nor cool, would this not pose another problem for Clarence? I say this only for Clarence’s sake, for I foresee my own pedantry. It is, after all, not the temperature that is the issue. Would it not be better simply to cross out the word ‘cool’, so that the wording simply states ‘drinks’, thereby including all of the general set of drinks rather than simply a subset?’
‘Very well Mr Jacobson, your point is well taken. Clarence please see to it that the word ‘cool’ is painted out.’
‘Sorry My Lady, if the court will allow?’
‘What is it Mr Jacobson?’ I said beginning to get irritated.
‘Only My Lady that Jacobson and Daughters would be most willing to make you up a new sign.’
‘At whose expense?’
‘At ours of course.’
‘Very well. Now can we please be allowed to proceed? Our mayor seems to have, quite inexplicably, spent the entire long weekend in jail. And I am sure Jean is eager to get him home.’ I said this nodding in her direction.
It was only then that I turned my gaze towards the two accused. They had, I knew, been brought still handcuffed from the police station by Clarence. I had myself ordered that Clarence should fetch them. This was after the konstable phoned to ask for the case to be postponed because they did not have ‘anybody free’ to escort the detainees over the road. Clarence, being both the janitor as well as the bailiff of the court, could legally perform the job and so I saw no reason for him not to do it.
Looking at Isaacs I noticed he had a large lump under his right eye which I knew, from many interactions with law enforcement, was consistent with the blow by a left-handed man, possibly using a club or baton. The mayor simply looked like a man who had not seen his bed or a razor for several days. ‘Well,’ I said turning to the state prosecutor, ‘what charges does the State bring against these two men.’
‘My Lady,’ Mr Hollow looked up, ‘we charge the mayor with driving with an invalid licence and recommend a punitive fine. As for Mr Isaacs we are still awaiting the doctor’s blood tests which we believe…Ah yes.’ With this the door of the court opened and a slightly annoyed looking Dr Eloff entered carrying a piece of paper. ‘If I may be allowed to consult with the doctor?’
I nodded and the two men stood at the lawyers table looking over the paper the doctor was holding. Dr Eloff looked at it indifferently, with his hands in his loosely fitting trousers and shrugged and pushed out his lip in an expression of disregard.
It was then I noticed that the young konstabel, who was heavily affected by acne, was still not in the court. Captain Mandel always sent the young policeman to watch over the court proceedings. It was part of Mandel’s policy of having ‘a visible police presence’. But I knew that it was as much to check up on me and my decisions as it was anything.
Only after realising his absence I began to suspect that the state prosecutor was stalling for time. Hollow was an officious man at the best of times. He loathed delays in the court’s proceedings. It was, I realised, surprising that he had not objected to what happened with William Jacobson and the argument over the coffee.
‘Mr Hollow, I have given you enough time, please let us proceed.’
‘My Lady, I would like an adjournment to consult further with the police.’
‘What for Mr Hollow?’
‘I need instructions.’
‘Mr Hollow, I will give you no adjournment and now you must present the evidence against Mr Isaacs and charge him. He has after all spent several days in jail already. He also seems to have suffered an injury that looks deeply suspicious.’
‘Well, My Lady,’ Hollow paused looking at Dr Eloff who just shrugged at him.
‘Out with it Mr Hollow. I will delay justice no further.’
‘Well, My Lady, I am lacking any evidence against Mr Isaacs.’
‘Mr Hollow, please proceed with the charge.’
‘Very well My Lady the State charges Mr Mohamed Isaacs with malicious damage to state property.’
With this Adv Maxwell rose placing his glasses on the end of his nose. ‘My Lady, considering he did not cause the road to be washed away – or at least there does not seem to be any conclusive proof of that – and that the damage to the truck was done to a privately-owned vehicle, I cannot see how the State can proceed.’
‘Indeed, I am in perfect agreement with you Mr Maxwell.’
‘My Lady!’ Hollow rose again, ‘I am sure that Captain Mandel has at least some good reason for having Mr Isaacs before you.’
‘Are you acting in the name of justice or at the whim of the Albertsberg police force? You are of course aware of interdictum de homine libero exhibendo, that it is unlawful to hold a free man in captivity for no reason?’
‘My Lady, it was believed that he was driving under the influence of alcohol but neither the police nor Dr Eloff have managed to bring any evidence to me.’
‘Mr Isaacs,’ I said turning to the driver of the dray, ‘you are free to go.’
‘Thank you ma’am,’ he said looking up dejectedly. ‘Could somebody unlock my handcuffs?’ he asked, just as a tear splashed onto his cheek and bloody-looking mucus ran from both nostrils.
With this I quickly changed my glasses to avoid witnessing the rest of Mr Isaacs’ emotions. I then turned my attention to the mayor. ‘In the case of The State v The Mayor of Albertsberg I find the mayor liable for one hour of community service.’ And just as I banged my gavel Captain Mandel and his young konstabel came in through the doors. ‘I would urge,’ I continued, ‘the police and the state prosecutor to be wary of the fact that our country’s traffic department is notoriously slow on the delivery of new driver’s licences these days, and that we should act with leniency when it comes to the many citizens who now find their licences out of date. I see no need for instances like this to occur again.’ With this I banged my gavel again, perhaps a little harder than usual.
As for the absence of the konstabel in the court that day it was not as I suspected, because the police were attempting to conspire against Isaacs, although they were. But rather, as it turned out later, they were taking a statement from the man who has become known as ‘the engineer of Albertsburg’. He had arrived at the police station that morning in order to register his presence in the district. In Albertsburg the law of registering one’s presence in a district, which is still technically on our country’s statutes, is still strictly enforced – unlike the rest of the country where it is simply ignored. And as usual our police were acting, when it was convenient to them, to the letter of the law.
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