After visiting Highbury’s Magistrates Court on the 15th of November, I was able to get a better understanding of how the UK’s justice system works. The visit really opened up my eyes, showing the struggles that innocent people go through. As well as the abuse that the court has to deal with.
After an unsuccessful sit-in in Court Room 3, where none of the defendants showed up to their case, I decided to sit in Court Room 12, where I got to experience 4 cases.
The case that hit me the hardest was the 2nd case about a young man whose children failed to attend school often enough without any proper justification. He started explaining how he was in prison during the time that his kids weren’t going to school, he had been falsely imprisoned for 11 months for something that his brother had done. Thus, during this time, his ex-wife was taking care of the kids and should have been the one taking them to school. However, money was being taken from his account (almost 1000 pounds in total) from social services and still is being taken.
The magistrate said that “it sounds like you have a good case” and that we have “accepted your explanation”. Thus, the case was re-opened and the young man must return in December for his second trial to try and get his money back.
I found this an extremely emotional case as I could see the pain in the young man’s eyes. Currently struggling to support his children by himself. Needing the money that has been and is being taken from him. He was completely helpless, having done absolutely nothing wrong. This case showed me the hardship that some have to go through when they are completely innocent.
This same case showed a hint of an opposite perspective, showing the abuse that the court has to deal with. They are trying to do their job and help people get out of their sticky situations. When they were providing a mandatory warning the man got quite loud, speaking over them and using inappropriate language. Saying he didn’t need the warning as he hadn’t done anything. The court has rules which mean they have to read the statement out, whether they believe the person or not.
My general opinion on the Magistrates Court was that it was a lot less formal than I thought it would be. The members were getting up a lot to talk to one another or to drink water. It made me think that people don’t take the magistrates courts as seriously as they would the Crown Court. They seem to talk over the magistrates and not follow the rules.
Pieter Hugo went to Rwanda almost two decades after millions were killed during the genocide and photographed perpetrators and survivors together in one photo. He displays the different types of forgiveness that people can have for one another. Explaining that some of the pairs sat together and chatted about village gossip. Others agreed to take the photo and then parted ways, not exchanging much contact.
The first image photographs Jean Pierre Karenzi, the perpetrator and Viviane Nyiramana, the survivor. Jean killed Vivianes father and three brothers. After begging for her forgiveness and building a house for her, she pardoned him. The photo shows Jean looking very sad and regretful, facing away from both the camera and Viviane. He is very ashamed of what he has done and clearly doesn’t forgive himself. Viviane is staring into the camera and has her hand on Karenzi’s back. She has no guilty conscience as she is looking straight into the camera. Her eyes are filled with sorrow from her losses. However it’s noticeable that she has forgiven Jean as she is touching him affectionately.
This seems like a case of full forgiveness, where the two would genuinely communicate with one another.
The second image photographs Godefroid Mudaheranwa, the perpetrator and Evasta Mukanyandwi, the survivor. Godefroid burned Evasta’s house and tried to kill her and her children, but luckily, they managed to escape. Evasta hated him for a long time. Eventually he came and knelt in front of her asking for forgiveness. His sincerity moved by her. Now she relies on him when she’s in times of trouble. The photo portrays them standing side by side. Both with stern faces, making it appear as if they don’t have a good relationship.
It is clear that Evasta has forgiven him. However, the photo makes it seem as if this is a situation where the forgiveness isn’t totally there.
The New Yorker profile discusses Albert Woodfox and how he was able to survive solitary. He was in and out of jail for multiple petty crimes. Through being arrested he met people in the Black Panther Party. He was mesmorized saying “It was the first-time I’d ever seen black folk her were not afraid”.
At 18 he was sentenced 50 years for robbing a bar, where he was later placed on the Panther Tier. Eighteen other members were awaiting trial. When entering court, after being beaten, he said “I want all of you to see what these racist, fascist pigs have done to me.”
He was then taken to Angola, the largest maximum security in the USA.
At Angola a guard, Brent Miller, was stabbed 32 times. With the warden describing Woodfox as a “hard-core Black Panther racist” it was assumed the murder was a political act. He was taken to solitary.
Woodfox was held in solitary confinement for 43 years, longer than any prisoner in American history.
Eventually the truth came out that the bloody fingerprints didn’t match any of the men, and so at the age of 69, Woodfox was realised.
Although Woodfox committed crimes, the writing techniques that Rachel Aviv used made me feel sympathy for him. Using quotes of how social workers described Woodfox as “respectful”, “positive” and “co-operative” and using stories from when Woodfox was younger.
The impression this profile gave me on Woodfox is that he was a strong-willed man. He fought for what he believed in and was stuck up for his people. He never caused real harm, being framed for a murder he didn’t commit and still remaining strong and well-behaved all those years he was locked in solitary.