May 10, 2000
Upholding the law - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER -- I’m a good kid. Unlike some kids I’ve met who’ve been in front of judges on charges from theft to manslaughter, I’ve managed to stay on one side of the law, and I’m pleased to say it’s the “good” side. I’ve never been in court, not even for high society crimes like tax evasion or insider trading, so it was an interesting treat to preside over my Law 12 class as the judge.
The mock trial was on a charge of murder, a man suffering from stress and the stuff that makes someone loopy upstairs, fell asleep at home and woke up at his in-laws, hovering over his mother-in-law knife in hand. He murdered her. He admitted it and went to the RCMP to confess. The mock trial goes to my courtroom, the Crown asking for a first-degree charge, his defence wants the minimum. His defence wants therapy and psychiatric jazz like that.
The jury, 10 or so in that class passed a verdict of not guilty on the charge of murder, but guilty on the lesser charge of manslaughter. I thought it was a most thoughtful decision and a testament to their ability to wade through the case presented by the defence and the Crown Counsel. Subsequently, I handed down, what I now consider a harsh sentence. In 20/20 hindsight, I think the jail term of 10 years was excessive, but then again it was all poppycock. Pretend.
The entire experience of being a judge was fun. I acted, as others have gone onto say as well versed in my role. I didn’t model myself like Judy Shiedlen or Ed Koch. I played the part of presiding over the whole case, as the speaker of the house does in the legislature or in the Commons. There’s a lot of that “Your Honour” and “Sir” stuff, which is rather outdated, but like the smell of good brandy, it’s tradition and it just feels right.
It was rather interesting to deliver the opening statement on the first day. It used all these big, high brow terms, which sort of set the ground work for the days ahead.
The legal system in this country seems pretty good. The trial system as it currently sits is rather fair and the onus is on those accused to pick their team, so as to have the trial go in their favour. I’m not going to use this space to criticise my fellow classmates on their work, because they all put in a tremendous amount of effort. What I did find rather amusing was the fact some witnesses were resigned to relying on scripts and when a question was posed to them they had to shuffle through their papers trying to find the correct answer. Some watchers mentioned how harsh I was. I guess I was a little to a “lawyer” who took no less than a minute to flake through her papers to find a question for her witness!
It was a most memorable experience and a terrific taste of authority.
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