Court Visit — Observation Report — Written Assignment
COURT VISIT—OBSERVATION REPORT
Table of Contents
3Visit Overview 1.0.
3Summary of the Case 2.0.
4General Impression of the Court Session 3.0.
6Legal Representation 4.0.
7Role of Social Worker in the Courtroom 5.0.
As part of human services requirement, an observation report was based on a visit to Moranbah Magistrates Court on 27th March, 2017. Moranbah Magistrates Court is located on 21 Griffin St, Moranbah QLD 4744. Other details of the observation are as follows:
Date/Time of Observation: March 27th, 2017 from 2:00-4:00 pm.
Court: Moranbah Magistrates Court
Type of Case: Criminal Case
Proceeding Observed: Jury trial
Summary of the Case
The criminal case involved a fight between one defendant and the family and his neighbor (prosecutor). The prosecutor, a middle aged man, prosecuted the defendant, a 35 years old man with the criminal offence that on February, 13th, 2017 the defendant hit his daughter and on demanding the cause of this the defendant slapped him. According to the prosecutor, the fight ensued because of a parking space across him home. On observation day, the prosecutor was not present at the courtroom but the court read his witness statement. I guessed that at the first hearing of this case the prosecutor was cross-examined by the court and the facts and matters that were argued on the day of observations was based on the testimonies and statements presented by both the prosecutor and the defendant. Generally, the case was simple and comprehensible even to the layman; an experience that was entirely different from my expectation. The most challenging part of the case though, was that the jury trial was taking too long. To the best my observation the duration was owing to the fact that everything every fact of the matter should be explained to layman’s ears by the prosecution team and the judge.
General Impression of the Court Session
The first instance of the Court that looked impressive was the fact that the defendant, without the presence of the prosecutor, took place at the defendant box, contrary to my expectation that he would do the same at the defendant box. However, I came to realize that these steps were taken to allow proper cross examination by the two advocates that were representing the prosecutor. In connection to the rigorous processes of cross examination, the defendant insisted that he neither beat the daughter nor slapped the prosecutor. One point that came out from his testimony and presentation was that from time to time, the defendant had been receiving threats regarding the parking bay. From this explanation was impressed by Judge’s constant interjection especially when the cross-examining team (the two advocates) was coercing the defendant to state issues that were not concerning the court. It suddenly came to my realization that the court room as a place of justice and that the court was only interested in the merit of the case and facts concerning the case but not sideshows that were brought by the advocates. As a matter of fact, I noted that laws are doubled edged sword that protects both the defendant and the prosecutor.
An interesting or rather, impressive process of the court session was the role of witness expert and human services in discharging of the justice. I noted that prosecutor’s barrister opposed the fact that evidence brought to court that indicated that report from the doctor who examined the prosecutor could not find any signs of bodily harm and neither could the doctor ascertain that indeed, there was a fight between the defendant and the prosecutor leading to physical injury. When human services officer, who apparently, witnessed the scuffle argued that the argument between the defendant and the prosecutor could not be precise since the intention of the prosecutor were unknown to him when he came to separate the two. Furthermore, the human services officer noted that though there was scuffle between the two, physical signs of the struggle may have faded by the time the doctor examined the prosecutor and the defendant. The impression here was not only the role of expert witness and human services in administration of justice but the role of juries in the case. I realized that courts are places were juries are firm with their decisions. In most instances, they took account of every fact and matter of the case. Additionally, the jury took keen of every factor and where clarity was needed the defendant and prosecution team was asked to repeat, explain or elaborate facts of the matter.
While coming the court that afternoon, I expected complex legal processes where questioning, cross-examination and proceedings were based on complex sections of the law that are intertwined between constitutional legal frameworks, human rights perspective and previous court cases as points of references. However, I was impressed to learn how simple and straightforward the matter was. While facts and issues were given reference in accordance with different provisions of the law, there was little reference to precedent with the court merely quoting a section within the relevant statue. This reminds general public and human services practitioners that to some extent, the role of our court is not restrictively to administer justice based on legal provisions but to question, discuss, and decide on evidence so that there is peace and tranquility between parties involved in legal battle.
I came in the court knowing that many people attending court sessions may not have the privilege to have legal representations. This observation takes considerations of previous studies including the aspect of ‘audience’ as captured in Writing Skills for Social Workers (Mulholland and Healy, 2007 p. 6). According to the author, there is need to provide information that considers the expected audience. Integrating this view, our court observation provides information on the expectation of audience regarding the effect of legal representation and situations where there is no representation. This was indeed the case involving the defendant. To begin recognized that court is interested in questioning, cross-examination and interrogations. These processes are therefore compared or related to the merit of the matter and finally judged in accordance with relevant law provision. Secondly, there are technical legal frameworks that underlie every answer given by the prosecutor or the defendant. The aim of these processes according to my observation was to help the trial judge summarise all the evidence. Therefore, I realized that legal representation is of paramount importance. One might be well-educated or knowledgeable across different issues but matters of law remains to be matters of law. I further noted that there are some technicalities in legal proceedings that if they are not followed or interpreted well, the court may have the powers to throw out the case even before it is heard and determined. For instance, when the prosecutor claimed that there was bodily harm but this matter was disputed by the expert witness and the human service activist present I noted that in as much as there was no comprehensive legal representation in the court this step is essential because the legal team (lawyers) are trained and have the skills for effective communication, research, organization of fact against legal provisions and articulation of facts to convince the court on some possible decisions.
Not having legal representation may twist a case against one party. I observed that legal representation was important as it was help either the defendant to understand the cross cutting roles between the solicitors and the barristers. If these roles are not understood succinctly the impact is that the weight of the case might turn against the unrepresented party. For instance, during my observation I noted that barrister represented the case in the courtroom while the role of the barrister was to understand and present the main body of the case. I also observed that while solicitors were having rights to speak in the courtroom, there were instances when the barrister would seek clarification on some matters presented. These are reasons why legal representations are essential for smooth transition of legal proceedings.
Role of Social Worker in the Courtroom
My observation for the two-hour period noted that the roles of social worker in legal proceedings are multifaceted. From my observation on this criminal proceeding I realized that many of the circumstance that led to conflict between the two parties are social in nature. Again, the in conflict between the social issues and law are social in nature (Glendinning 2015). Looking at facts and laws as argued during my visit I noted that justice system are neither mandated nor equipped to fulfill the role of legal justice and as such, the role of social worker is to help legal processes to fulfill the gap between legal solution and social solution by working hand in hand with social workers to accomplish this end. Just like previous researches had noted, I observed that without social worker or inter-sectorial cooperation between social workers and courts, justice interventions is likely to miss the opportunity of devising and sustaining a change in people’s social behaviors and circumstance leading to such behaviors (Glendinning 2015; Doxey and McNamara 2015; Hobbs 2015).
As already noted, justice should serve both the prosecutor and the defendant and importantly, the marginalized groups. Justice systems and social works are in different ways, two distinct spheres. But ways and occasions in which they could interface for the interest of the minority is important. We therefore borrow from researches such as Quinlan et al. (2015) to note that courts should integrate the opinion of social workers in matters of the law especially when rights and privileges of minority groups are infringed. Social work should not be loosely seen as services whose scope or restrictiveness is not corresponding to legal proceedings in court. Courts should try to integrate expert opinions from social workers as they help in social cohesion and the very same social fabric courts are trying to get.
Doxey, G. and McNamara, P., 2015. A new role for social work in remote Australia: Addressing psycho-social needs of farming families identified through financial counselling. International Social Work, 58(1), pp.32-42.
Glendinning, C., 2015. A single door: social work with the families of disabled children. Routledge.
Hobbs, H., 2015. Finding a fair reflection on the high court of Australia. Alternative Law Journal, 40(1), pp.13-17.
Mulholland, J. and Healy, K., 2007. Writing Skills for Social Workers (Social work in action). Sage Publications.
Quinlan, M., Fitzpatrick, S.J., Matthews, L.R., Ngo, M. and Bohle, P., 2015. Administering the cost of death: Organisational perspectives on workers’ compensation and common law claims following traumatic death at work in Australia. International journal of law and psychiatry, 38, pp.8-17.