Attending court can be traumatic, especially if it is your first visit. Even if you are composed, the nervousness and, in some instances, bizarre behaviour of other people in the waiting area can affect you. At my local County Court there are occasions where a family list runs alongside a list of possession cases and whilst my clients might be there to secure directions from a Judge for valuations of property or for time limits to be given for production of documents, they can also be acutely aware that there are people in the waiting room losing their homes for non-payment of rent or mortgages.
I remember representing a client once upon a time when I found him in the waiting room looking decidedly pale and concerned. Indeed the whole waiting area seemed to have a deathly hush and pall about it, as some gathered around the list of cases pinned to the wall and others sat in chairs staring speechlessly in front of them.
“Is everything okay?” I asked my client.
“No,” he replied. “You didn’t tell me we had a hanging Judge. I’ve just seen the court list and it says that someone called Smith could be executed. I didn’t know that kind of thing happened any more and I don’t understand why I have to come to court on the same day. Will we have to sit near to it happening?”
All eyes turned in wonderment towards the window and the courtyard beyond. An entry on the court list had clearly had a deleterious effect on everyone gathered there that day. Fortunately no gallows had been hastily constructed since my last visit and I rose to check the list for myself.
The reason for my client’s concern became apparent and I returned to reassure him that suspension of execution referred, not as it had suggested itself to the public present, but rather to an application to defer a warrant issued to the court bailiff to seize a debtor’s goods!