IT is difficult to imagine a building in the city boasting such a wealth of stories and emotions under one single roof.
Completed in 2018, Cork District Court has to be seen in all its glory to be believed. Six courtrooms, a new public office, a vulnerable witness suite, legal practitioners’ room, and 10 secure underground cells make up its state-of-the-art facilities.
Absorbing the atmosphere in Courtroom One is an education like none other. One could be forgiven for believing they are in fact back in the classroom. Previously a school, the 45 infants that populated the building in 1865 likely never imagined they would be replaced decades later by men and women on trial for all manner of crimes.
Fittingly, the day is pockmarked by a litany of schoolboy errors.
“May I remind you that there are no photographs and no recordings. You’ll be in custody if you use your phone again.”
The gestures of long sufferance from our judge continue as he reprimands a man sitting at the back of court nursing a can of Coca-Cola. We watch as he, and the woman accompanying him, are escorted from the courtroom. Each of these minor occurrences fades into a blur of distractions. The hubbub of an ever-moving crowd is somewhat comforting in this fraught environment.
At times, the interruptions are welcome.
Smothered whispers fill the courtroom. Audible whimpering from one man serves as an acoustic backdrop to proceedings.
Religion still finds its way into the courtroom.
Christians swear on the New Testament, Jews favour the Old Testament, while Muslims favour the Koran.
Stories detailing everything from the possession of a weapon right down to the theft of a Snickers ice-cream bar prove that the myth of a victimless crime really is just that.
Tension consumes the room as solicitors fight for clients embroiled in everything from the horrific to the downright bizarre. The imagery their words conjure up slice through you like knives.
Comments from the judge in relation to one man’s dangerous driving escapade thicken the already dense courtroom air.
“It was fortunate that someone wasn’t killed by this man’s driving.”
Hearings via a video link allow the judge to address prisoners one by one.
Faces weathered by heroin addiction make it challenging to narrow down the ages of certain individuals on trial. One man who looks 60 at a glance turns out to be 32.
Solicitors desperately attempt to convince the judge that their client has changed in what plays out like an endless thread of possibilities. Public order offences are the order of the day with one case detailing a man who told gardaí to “f***k off out of my face”.
A solicitor explains that the accused has dyspraxia, preventing him from penning a letter of apology. The judge dismisses this claim, however, reminding him: “Dyspraxia is not an excuse. It might make it more difficult but there are plenty of people with this disability.”
The list of reasons put forward by solicitors for the judge to show leniency grows longer with each defendant.
“He’s attending the gym judge.”
“He is his mother’s sole carer.”
“He has reached a sober place.”
“Alcohol got the better of him”
“He is doing the best he can.”
The disappointment is palpable as one man arrives back in court after defying bail conditions.
The judge addresses the man accused of harassing an ex-partner.
“I thought that you deserved another chance but I was wrong.”
Second chances account for the theme of the day.
One woman who provided a character reference is quizzed on her unwavering sense of belief for a service user she dealt with in relation to past accommodation.
After it’s pointed out that the defendant has amassed a total of more than 50 convictions for theft, she refuses to back down saying:
“I believe in her. I feel she should be given another chance.”
Others are no strangers to court either.
One man awaiting sentencing for a crime turns to me with a conspiratorial stare.
“Are you from The Echo?” he asks, “because if you are I don’t want my name mentioned. I’ve been in the papers too many times now.”
Soft downturned glances from defendants only add to the emotional scenes. Those not whispering communicate their emotions on a bodily level. Perspiration beads fall to their death, betraying otherwise calm exteriors.
Comic relief shields against the often-grim emotions surrounding each case.
Some might be in court for crimes against fashion. That’s if the tastes of the judge are anything to go by. Known for having a particular aversion to shorts, he refuses to deal with one man, until he arrives back “suitably attired”.
The bizarre fashion choices don’t end there. Flaming orange and bright green trainers add a splash of colour to proceedings. Midriffs are also on proud display beneath vivid garments.
A number seem increasingly agitated, approaching their solicitor before shuffling back to their seats several times.
Meanwhile, accounts from the stand would lend themselves well to cautionary tales for the young and self-proclaimed invincibles.
There’s the curious case of a young man from abroad, who on, the first day of his holiday in Cork, refused a breathalyser test. His resistance was in response to concerns from gardaí that he might be driving under the influence.
He insists with conviction that he is unable to afford the fine imposed on him.
The judge argues that he must be able to meet the sum when taking into account the cost of his hotel.
His response elicits amusement from more than a few.
“I didn’t pay for the hotel.”
More in this section