Sunday, March 15, 2009

Edmonton Law Courts: March 2009

On Friday, I visited the Edmonton Law Courts, quite unexpectedly. A friend and I had arranged to meet for coffee, and she invited me to accompany her to the Law Courts, where she was contesting a speeding ticket. It sounded entertaining and informative to me, so I agreed to go.

It was a lovely, winter's day for Edmonton, with the temperature hovering around freezing, sun shining brightly, and snow melting all around. A temporary relief from the -45C rising to -23C during the day! We walked over to the Courts, and to enter had to strip as if going through airport security. I found it entertaining watching all the men pulling off belts, taking off watches, having such a struggle to divest themselves of their winter gear. It turned out that lots of them were considerably smaller than had at first been apparent, what with their large boots and huge jackets.

When my friend had registered her appearance, we had an opportunity to observe procedure in the Court. The crown prosecutor explained the law, carefully and respectfully, to a few people, the general theme being that if they decided to go to trial, their penalties would probably be increased. If they didn't, their penalties would be decreased. These plaintiffs eventually decided that it would be in their own interests to plead "guilty". The presiding commissioner entered the Court, and we all rose in respect of his position. All those who were pleading guilty were dealt with, and the commissioner retired.

My friend was then taken into another room by a policeman. He explained carefully and respectfully to her, that the laser equipment used to book her was absolutely infallible. It was also explained that the police don't know whom they are choosing to target, and that her career status and membership in all sorts of volunteer organizations made no difference to her ticket. It was pointed out that if she insisted on going to trial, she would probably be given additional demerit points and a steeper fine. She was offered a reduction in both the fine and demerit points. She came to see that it was in her best interests to plead "guilty".

While she was being dealt with by the policeman, I had an opportunity to observe other cases. The crown prosecutor explained the law to other plaintiffs, and always pointed out that there was a strong possiblilty that if they went to trial, their penalties would be greater than if they pled "guilty"; however, if they pleaded guilty, their penalties would be decreased. With no exceptions, they all pleaded guilty.

One man was very put out about it all. As he explained to the judge, in great detail and with all the ramifications, he was only pleading guilty under duress. The Judge smilingly told him that, as judge, he didn't need a lesson in the law, or legal procedures.

Another man, returned to his seat behind me, and angrily pointed out to his friends that he really was being ill-used. Resting his head on the driving wheel of the vehicle while driving, to have a brief rest as he was so tired, did not constitute a risk to others on the road. I think alcohol was also involved. He too was persuaded to plead guilty. He did so, also under duress.

The whole affairs of the court were dealt with in a totally civilized manner, with great respect being shown to all. I found it fascinating, and enlightening. The Law is not such an ass (jackass for my North American friends and family), in spite of the opinion of Charles Dickens. Nowadays, it displays a deep understanding of human nature and motivation, and uses this to great effect, to keep the courts clear of trivial cases.

What a contrast to the dealings of the legal system in the eighteenth and nineteenth century! I have been reading The Fatal Shore about the early beginning of Australia, and that account seems full of hangings and floggings administered by the Courts. Times have certainly changed, and for the better!

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