The Neighbour has been in court again.
With yet another lawyer at his side.
Not the one who came to see me about this time last year to tell me to back off, but a rather more down market specimen, decidedly sub fusc alongside his client who was resplendent in smartly ironed shirt and jeans, sporting his crisp white hat with a curly brim in honour of the occasion.
The lawyer was there to defend The Neighbour in a preliminary hearing to see whether the Fiscalia (prosecuting service) would succeed in their bid to put him in front of a penal court in respect of his non respect of the law…..to wit, insulting, threatening and attacking people who had been granted protection orders prohibiting him from insulting, threatening and attacking them.
The behind the scenes cross and jostle work to replace the local prosecutor seems to have failed – in which case the owner of the hotel which caught fire last year resulting in multiple deaths might have cause to worry – and The Neighbour had been summoned to court to explain why, in his view, matters should go no further.
Perhaps made wiser by previous experience he elected to let his lawyer present his case, which was, reduced to its essence, that whatever it was he hadn’t done it and if he had done it it must have been when he was angry and anyway he wasn’t doing it now but he would be quite happy to be reconciled with everyone as he was a reasonable man and so there was no need to go to a penal court unless those who had complained to the Fiscalia had no respect for Christian principles.
It wasn’t as exciting as in the days when he took things into his own hands in court, and it took considerably longer than his old bravura performances, but at least the judge and his opponents felt safe from having violent hands laid upon them.
His opponents satisfied themselves with stating that in their view he should go before a penal court as he had respect neither for them nor for the law.
This was a step too far for The Neighbour.
With all his old brio he leapt to his feet, brushing aside his lawyer’s restraining hand and bawling that it was all lies and that he had witnesses…lots of witnesses…..important witnesses…..that he…he, you understand…was the victim.
The effect was enhanced by the black eye and swollen nose he was sporting after an encounter with a gentleman whose wife he had made the subject of insulting remarks earlier in the week, both eye and nose seeming to glow with the strength of his passionate outburst.
As his lawyer pulled him down into his seat the judge said pleasantly
Well, you can bring your witnesses into the penal court when the time comes.
And that was that.
The Neighbour and his lawyer departed in a cloud of mutual recrimination and everyone else went home.
I went to see our own lawyer, who had told me that I did not need him for this stage, to recount events.
But his lawyer missed the point, he said. It was nothing to do with what he did or didn’t do….he’s already been found guilty in court on all the claims the Fiscalia brought forward.
It’s about contempt of court…he’s done what the courts told him not to do…and been caught.
He can bring all the witnesses he likes….and the judge will hear them very courteously….but he’s had it.
He’s for the high jump.
So did his lawyer really misunderstand, or was it that he found it preferable to take his client’s instructions?
Given the Neighbour’s propensity for violence, it may well have been the latter…..I gather that he has assaulted his own lawyers before now and uniformly fails to pay them on the grounds that they have let him down in court even when he has been at pains to make available ready bribed witnesses.
What sort of a lawyer is it, he seeks to know, who can lose a case when his client has done all the groundwork for him?
Some other people will be wondering too, what sort of lawyer they had.
In 2009, the cables holding up a suspension bridge over the River Tarcoles gave way.
A bus which was on the bridge at the time fell into the waters below: five of the passengers died and thirty six were injured.
Two years later, the Fiscalia decided to bring charges against the bus driver and three officials of the Public Works Ministry…and the lawyer for the families prepared his case for the penal court.
Nearly three years after that the case came to court – in our local court – where the judge decided not only that no responsibility could be attached to the accused….yes, the poor state of the bridge was known, but a weight limit notice was clearly visible at the entrance to it…but also that he could not, in consequence, award compensation to the families of the victims.
Outrage, both locally and in the comment columns of the press….one law for the rich, another for the poor: millions in compensation for a private company deprived of a road building contract awarded in dubious circumstance, nothing for people struggling to help their family’s kids through education, to support elderly relatives.
The judge suggested that the path to compensation would have been to have taken the case to the administrative courts….logically enough, as the condition of the bridge was the responsibility of the state….but that it was now too late.
The parties had had four years in which to bring their case….four years which expired six months ago.
Carried away by the public scandal of the lack of maintenance of roads and bridges – particularly in rural areas – the lawyer had gone for the wrong court….and, with all respect to his clients, I doubt that they would have instructed him to do so had he not suggested that course of action.
Clearly this raises the usual questions of justice…which is what people expect…and law, which is what they receive and which only reflects justice in so far as groups promoting justice have been able to influence the executive, whether parliament, national assembly or whatever else, to enact just legislation.
Otherwise law reflects the interests of other groups able to influence the executive….interests which might well be perceived as most unjust indeed.
But it also raises the question of the responsibility of lawyers…of any professional providing specialist services to the public.
Anyone can get things wrong….anyone can, with the best will in the world, drop a clanger.
But there are some clangers which will resound in the lives of the clients involved for years to come….and this is one of them.
You can be as outraged as you please with the blatant neglect of the affairs of the rural poor….but you don’t help the rural poor by your indignation…you help them by going for the right remedy in the right court.
Otherwise you are about as much use as a feature writer on ‘The Guardian’…gaining points at your dinner parties of right thinking – or should that be left thinking – friends, and about as much use to the people you claim to speak for as a snowball in hell.