Something unexpected appears to be happening to the ancient institution of the magistracy-in some parts of Britain it is evolving into a progressive, self-questioning organisation. Jeremy Clarke has often been on the wrong side of the bench. Here, he finds reasons to be cheerful about justiceby Jeremy Clarke / October 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
Published in October 1995 issue of Prospect Magazine
At the head of a tidal estuary in South Devon, the sash windows of the 18th-century customs house which now serves as a courthouse have been forced down as far as they will go and the geraniums in the window boxes are shedding their etiolated petals on to the hot pavement. The driest and hottest summer since the place was built is no longer an automatic conversational gambit. Inside, jackets have been removed and ties are awry. Mr John Hansell, the normally punctiliously attired defence solicitor and slow spin bowler for the local village side, has his sleeves rolled up above his elbows, ready to lob a few leisurely deliveries at the opposition. The chairman of the magistrates, Mr Jeff Beer, an agro-chemical supplier, materialises through a side door and seats himself in the high-backed chair beneath the faded photograph of Her Majesty in her coronation outfit. He is a gangling man, in his 40s, wearing a short-sleeved shirt which appears too small for him and his long white arms look naked and vulnerable. He slams on his glasses, looks vigorously around the room, says, “Good morning, good morning, good morning,” and Kingsbridge’s weekly magistrates’ court is in session.
Today, he is supported by one “winger” only-an outstandingly beautiful woman who sits beside him with feline self-containment, upright and immobile. In front of and slightly beneath him, the clerk of the court, busy affixing paper clips and shuffling papers into piles, is celebrating the sartorial amnesty occasioned by the heat wave by wearing a luminous, inflammatory tie.
It is August 1st, Lammas day, traditional day of the festival of the first fruits and the first “attender” on the court’s list is Mr Gordon Dixon of Hope Cove. Mr Dixon takes his place at the head of the large table around which all the main protagonists-prosecution, defence, justices’ clerk and police constable-are gathered in affable intimacy. He is asked to sit while the representative of the Crown Prosecution Service lays “the facts of the matter” before the court.