MY LEGAL INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE – THEORY VS PRACTICE.
Stepping out of the car with my neatly ironed white shirt, the very penciled black skirt and the black wedge I had polished the night before, disappointment pasted on my face at the sight of the court environment – at a corner lay overgrown grasses; amidst them were sachets of used items and dirty cellophane bags with garbage stuffed inside, giving them a swollen appearance.
The walls of buildings were so cracked that one could see the people inside if they peeped carefully. Was it the roofs? They looked so brown and rusted one could break them at just one squeeze; a mere push could send them crashing down on the people inside.
In an attempt to get my mind off the unpleasant sight, I tagged along, closely, behind my boss. We stopped intermittently as he shook hands with other learned gentlemen. After what seemed like an eternity to me, we entered the court which was already in session and I hurriedly looked for a seat. Most turned to look at the youngest female in the legal regalia fit for a court appearance.
‘Are you a student lawyer?’ the court clerk asked, motioning me to her table.
‘Yes, Ma.’ I replied with the brightest smile.
For a moment, I forget about how the outside looked and let myself ride in the euphoria and pride of the legal profession.
Looking around to quench my curiosity, another wave of shock spread through my spines. The smile on my face faded and was replaced by a frown. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Mattresses and mini-freezers in the courtroom? Ones that looked discoloured by urine for that matter.
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The freezers had no doors and the rotten interior met the face of anyone that dared to stare. There were stacks of wood too, probably from the almost destroyed cupboards that lay all over the place. Father Lord! What mess is this? I asked within. What is this place?
The shrill voice of the court clerk as she read out the charge numbers interrupted my thoughts.
The magistrate demanded that the lawyers handling the matter enter appearance (Introduce themselves) which they did. I shut out other thoughts and paid rapt attention. The appearance of the place wasn’t going to give me what I came for anyway.
By way of objection, the defendant’s lawyer demanded the matter be struck out for want of jurisdiction (matter be dismissed without a full hearing). The plaintiff’s lawyer who did not rest on his laurels, pleaded on Section 70 of the CPL.
‘Do you wish to withdraw your application or I adjourn this matter and remand the accused in prison? The magistrate directed to the defense counsel.
The former was chosen and the court assumed jurisdiction (continued the matter). A very fine young man walked in and made to sit beside me. Quietly, he muted some things into my ears. I waved him off with a raise of my hand it almost entered his eyes. I wasn’t going to entertain distractions.
Next, a hungry-looking, thin, ebony complexioned man climbed the dock and swore with the bible to attest the truth and nothing but the truth and the charge was read to him in the Igbo Language. His supposed offense being – chasing his wife out of their home and marrying another while the first still lived. He elected summary trial (chose to be tried in that court) and pleaded not guilty.
The feeling of experiencing first hand all I was taught in class left me with so much ecstasy. Without being prompted, I was already riding myself to the climax, waiting for the legal duel to begin and then it struck me – the soft rhythm and tenderness with which the lawyers pleaded their cases; it left my lips ajar.
The experience was very far from the exuberant charisma and loudness which I, have to an extent, believed was how advocacy was done. I fully came to realize that shouting to emerge the loudest man in the room does not define advocacy but a sense of reason, organization, and meticulousness in every word let out. Most talked almost lifelessly, as long as the magistrate whose face was down, scribbling throughout the whole time, heard their voice. I saw his face only the times he wanted to speak.
The defendant’s lawyer, whose grey hair and moustache were evidence of his advancement in age, read verbatim from the white paper which couldn’t stop vibrating in his hands. His ten fingers shook, even as he sat down after gracing the court with his exuberances.
‘This matter is dismissed out of merit and accused discharged’ uttered the magistrate. Hisses, sighs, and bouts of laughter filled the room. From afar, I sighted the broad smile on the face of the accused and the disappointment on the woman he left for another.
‘Did he just dismiss this case?’ I asked my other self, brows curved in an arc. It did not feel right.
For chrissake, the accused committed bigamy and I read it was a crime. I couldn’t find the strength to lift my ass from the chair. Not long, my boss signaled me he was leaving and I, like a loyal disciple, tagged along, head lowered in amazement.
The curiosity weighed down my heart like a stone tied to a rock. I questioned, but got hilarious answers.
Now, I’ve come to believe the legal theory is almost entirely different from the practice.