A view from the public gallery

The courtroom had a fully-functioning air-conditioning or heating system, but ‘dry’ doesn’t quite cover the air of dessication that had overwhelmed me just a few hours in. The judges had several binders’ worth of papers – bundles, I gathered that they are called – through which the QC navigated them backwards, forwards, upwards and sometimes downwards in a join-the-dots journey that – occasionally, fleetingly – I could see would eventually form a coherent picture. Me myself, I was armed only with a copy of the skeleton arguments, themselves long enough. Any reference to further paperwork and I was lost, like a wisp of sun-baked grass on the tundra. Section 65, subsection 2 b referring to 5 c, ….

I found myself torn. On the one hand, this arridity, the necessary detailed exploration of previously recorded thises and thats, the formality of it, seems like an act of concealment, a shower of paper confetti obscuring a picture which everyone in the room knows to be deeply unpleasant, traumatic and – ultimately – morally and criminally wrong. Doesn’t this mean the picture won’t be seen? That it won’t be understood?

On the other hand, isn’t this why we have courts? A space where facts and perspectives may be sifted, studied, re-examined under the slow heat and light of careful analysis, until all that is left is the solid structure of what is real? This is an idealogical hope – because of course ‘what is real’ is subjective, constructed from what is left out as much as what is left in. This piece of sun-baked grass is trying to look on the bright side.

Between subsections, my mind wanders, I’m remembering parts of a biology lesson, how you can measure a plant’s dry weight, the remains of the cell structures, but how that measurement will tell you nothing of the the strength and power of the plant when it had water. Each of the people bringing this case was inspired, at some time, with enough passion to participate in some form of political activism for social and environmental justice. Personal decisions, personal passions, yet we are brought here to a desert. Shifting in my seat, I try to focus back on today, the court, the lawyers wigs, the case references, arguments, and subsections of parliamentary acts; why we’re here.

Here’s what we walked into the court knowing: several police officers from an undercover unit had long-term relationships while undercover. The lives in which they participated were real lives, while theirs was a fabrication. The effect of this collision was a disruption of reality, whether by terrible forseeable accident or by terrible calculated design. The architects of this collision either ignored or attacked real, living, breathing passion, intention, flesh and blood. The lives of real people were sifted, studied, re-examined under the slow heat and dull light of delusion, reduced, and then cast aside like dust, like skin particles on top of a bundle of papers. This much we know. This much we terribly and painfully know.

And this much we are hearing: we might never get to see anything – we might never get to *understand* anything – of why the collision took place. This is a preliminary hearing of a civil case being brought against the police for what happened. At this juncture, the police lawyers, on one side of the room, are arguing two things: one, that these civil claims should go to a secret court, and two, that what I’d describe as a dangerous delusion of power exercised by the unit was, instead, a licence granted to them by parliament. It’s part of their argument in favour of the secret court, and gives an insight into what they will argue in the main case. Give these people a licence to make toast, and they’ll come out swearing blind that you said it was ok to torch a city, inhabitants and all. You have to be careful what you tell them they can do. Here’s what we also knew when we walked into court: parliament was not nearly careful enough.

The lawyers on the other side of the room – the real life side – pull apart the law in question, laying it out in tables, rows and columns. While parliament’s failings are acknowledged, it is put to the judges that there is still a clarity to the law, and that the grand permission that the police claim to be there is not even a shrivelled shadow of an idea in the statute. It’s just not there. I’m utterly convinced by their argument – but then, of course I would be. Bright side, as I mentioned earlier.

James Bond didn’t get a look-in this time. The mention of him in an earlier judgement (in favour of secret court) was so random and so thoroughly a red herring that neither side is mentioning it in court. He is summarily dismissed in a paragraph in the skeleton argument, and that is all. No licence to kill, nor thrill; there are enough fictions here – and enough narratives being fought over. Me, I believe the police’s actions to be the product of delusion – and again, this is looking on the bright side. I think they believe they are holy pure angels of destiny, thwarters of evil, protectors of life, and so they believe they can do no wrong. They therefore cannot conceive of themselves as criminals, wayward, life-destroyers. They believe that their ‘good-guy’ actions and the super-hero costumes of their day-jobs should know no limits, because limits are for criminals and mere mortals. At worst, they cast activists as the former; at best, the latter – these pesky protesters, those pesky kids, getting in the way of a good police-hero-saves-the-day story… What do they know of real life?

But real life is messy. So is democracy, and politics. Turn it all into saints, sinners and bystanders, and what gets lost? Real life.

This was the first day of a two-day hearing. I won’t know how the argument will pan out tomorrow, because can’t be there. I know that we are still so deep in the shower of paper confetti obscuring the truth that nothing much will be clearer – and that so far this only serves the continuation of the police’s dangerous delusion. I know that none of the onward journeys from this junction will be comfortable, or, for that matter, particularly bright.

But here’s what I do know: it’s still worthwhile. Some real life people, whose real lives had been dessicated and cast aside by some dangerous, deluded and powerful real life people, have pulled together in their dry grief, and found water. They are real, living, breathing, people. Each, in their own individual way, is strong, and each, in their own individual way, has passion. Droplets of water, forming pools of life, were present, ever present, even there, in the dry, dry court.

This piece was written after sitting in the public gallery of the Royal Court of Appeal on 15 October 2013. Eight women, and others, are taking legal action against the police; visit Police Spies Out Of Lives for more information.

A view from the public gallery | 2013 | words | Comments (0)

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