The case against my client is overwhelming, but he refuses to plead guilty. Any questions that I ask in court are just going to make things worseby Alex McBride / August 27, 2006 / Leave a comment
Time was running out for Mr Ng and he was still only half awake. The car- towers had arrived on the stroke of 8.30. He looked out the window to see two men attaching the straps to the wheels of his car. Why were they always picking on him? Fifteen floors up and the lift wasn’t working. Nothing was going right. He pulled on some tracksuit bottoms and raced down. Out in the street the situation was critical. His car was already on the truck. He protested angrily, explaining that he lived in the flats, but his lack of English frustrated him. The car-towers told him that he needed a permit to park. Tiring of flimflam, Mr Ng opted for force majeure and things were set for mayhem.
Mr Ng and I sat outside the court, the Vietnamese interpreter wedged between us, as I skimmed the case papers; it was clear he had no case and I advised him to plead guilty. He’d get credit for going guilty, I told him. It was a poor bluff. Although he would get a stiffer sentence if the case went to trial, it wasn’t going to make much difference. Section 4 of the Public Order Act (threatening unlawful violence) is an imprisonable offence with a six-month maximum, but in practice it rarely leads to custody. The real reason for my advice was that the case was so overwhelming that I didn’t have any questions to ask. Barristers ask questions to make points, but if you have no point to make, any question you ask might just make things worse.
The main witness, Mr Khan, a devout Muslim with a handsome beard, arrived wearing his fluorescent car-tower’s coat. He outlined the events. After the initial exchange, he claimed Mr Ng ran to the truck’s lifting-gear controls to steer his car on to the ground. Mr Ng’s instructions to me were limited, but he insisted he hadn’t touched the lifting-gear.
Me: He didn’t go near those controls, did he?
Mr Khan: Yes, he did.
Me: The car didn’t move.
Mr Khan: That’s true.
Me: So he can’t have touched the controls then?
Mr Khan: He had a wild look in his eyes. I switched off the controls as a precaution.
The judge: That was quick thinking, Mr Khan.
Mr Khan: Thank you, madam.
Thwarted by Mr Khan, Mr Ng leapt up on to the truck, climbed into his car and started the engine. His plan was to reverse the car off the back of the truck, but it was firmly attached so he drove forward, damaging the truck’s cab. By this point there was a sizeable crowd watching their once-quiet neighbour.
I tried a different tack—Mr Khan was a panicker.
Me: Mr Ng wasn’t doing anything to threaten or intimidate you, was he?
Mr Khan: Not then, he wasn’t.
Me: You panicked and needlessly called the police.
Mr Khan: I only called the police when he attacked us with the pole.
Ah, yes, the pole, there was no getting around that. It was the gravamen of the trial, and Mr Khan timed its introduction beautifully. Having failed to liberate his car, Mr Ng picked up a four-foot steel pole and, waving it above his head, leapt off the truck with a bloodcurdling scream. Despite the weight of the pole and the big drop from truck to ground, Mr Ng landed with it still above his head. Mr Khan and his colleague had seen Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and didn’t want to be on the receiving end of any “chop socky.” As Mr Ng chased the second car-tower around the truck, Mr Khan called the police. By the time the police arrived, they found Mr Ng sitting in his car, smoking a cigarette. He refused to be coaxed out. A cop climbed on to the truck, hoping to reason with him. Mr Ng’s lightning exit from the car so surprised the cop that, to the delight of the crowd, he fell off the truck. Mr Ng, once the hunter, was now the hunted. He was good, too. He zigzagged like a champion, running in spiky figures of eight around the block of flats. The cop needed help, but neither he nor his colleague, who joined the fray, could match Mr Ng for pace. It was getting embarrassing. The crowd was rooting for Mr Ng. A few chanted, “Ng, Ng, Ng.” They were all late for work. Belatedly, the cops got smart; one chased Mr Ng into the flats, while the other ran around the other way and blocked the only exit. They cornered him by the bins. It was a sad end for someone who had shown such spirit. In a last act of defiance he let out a howl, fell to his knees and despairingly slashed at his wrists.
The judge convicted him before I had even sat down from my closing speech.
At least it was over, I thought, as I mulled what to say in mitigation. Mr Ng, who had sat placidly through the trial, was not finished. He stood up and shouted, “You fucking cunt.” Classy judges let these outbursts go—but not this one. Mr Ng had to sit in the cells until he apologised. Eventually he said sorry, and a community sentence was passed. As for me, I resolved to change. No more Mr Nice Guy. If guilty clients like Mr Ng refused to see sense and plead, I’d follow his example and threaten them with a pole.