Saturday, 2 August 2008

Courting stories

These last few days, sitting outside the courtroom waiting for the jury to deliver the verdict, chatting to police officers and interpreters transported me back to that café under the tree in Penang, just outside the courthouse. The temperature outside soared to a scorching 30, not unlike the temperature all year round on the island. Camera crews and photographers waiting outside the court building for the Jill Dando murder case, were wilting in the heat, but they couldn’t move until they got their pix of the day.

Watching the hustle bustle of men and women bewigged and in black robes carrying huge files and huger books for reference, I remembered similar activities along corridors of the impressive Penang courthouse. They were the likes of Karpal Singh, the late P Annamalai and their entourage, or Rajasingam and many more whose names escaped me now. I was young and naïve, wondering around the courthouse, looking for stories that would give me an impressive headline in the next day’s paper. I used to be in awe of hardcore journalists who wouldn’t be contented with just a life sentence.

“What? Only life, ah?” A death sentence would ensure a front page story and certainly a byline that’s a few katis in weight!

While waiting for verdicts, sentencing, or just whiling away our time for a more ‘interesting’ case, we’d sit and have chats with prosecutors, lawyers and police officers about all sorts of things. There was such a bond, and that was how we’d get tips about new cases; murder, drug traffickings, or small non headline grabbing cases like being caught redhanded watching blue films or stealing a bicycle. Once in a long while, we’d get sensational stories of illegal topless and scantily clad dancers who hid things where things shouldn’t be hidden. That would create quite a sensation, and would even solicit a smile and a chuckle from the usually stern magistrate.

The Penang courtrooms had witnessed a lot of stories of drugs in false bottom suitcases, or ridiculously high platform shoes hiding contraband goods. Even more ridiculous were the mitigation.

Lunch can be a long drawn out affair of nasi kandar at one of the restaurants dotting the streets of Penang, or at a more fanciful place with air condition depending on what time of the month it was. Or sometimes, none at all as we chased after lawyers, court clerks and police officers for documents to copy, especially after a verdict or a sentencing. Then a dash back to the office to bang on the old Remington which would then be typed out again by the teleprinter to the HQ in KL, while you stood in a queue; all depending on the urgency of the stories. How time has changed. Now, a quick call on the mobile, or sitting by the roadside with a laptop and a mobile internet connection, the story goes within a few minutes.

Court reporting was a training ground for all cub journalists. That was where we learned to listen attentively and take notes accurately. It used to be easy because in most cases, questions and answers were translated back, and very slowly too for the judge to note down everything.

But what I found difficult was to remove myself emotionally from the case. One that got me real bad was a case where both husband and wife were in the dock for drug trafficking and we all know that a guilty verdict would mean death. The wife was about to deliver – so there was a plea bargain. The husband would plead guilty and get life and the wife, was either given a lesser sentence or acquitted to look after the baby.

Another one was the Jelutong murder where the father massacred all his children as he thought life was not worth living when his wife flaunted her infidelities before his very eyes. Even the prosecution officer cried when he read out the son’s plea for the father not to kill him.

The last time I was at the Old Bailey, I heard an old Malay gentleman pleading his case. He stood there, a Quran in his hand and looked up at me at the public gallery and smiled in recognition at a familiar face. He spent 7 years inside and I visited him only twice. He wrote to me from Brixton and sent me visiting orders.

It is all very well to have hefty bylines but it is certainly a very draining experience - emotionally. Everyone is a victim of circumstances. Until today, I have forgotten, how emotionally draining it can be.

50 comments:

Atok said...

a few yrs ago, i was called to serve as a jury at our crown court; only did 3 cases that week... it was a very interesting experience indeed.

so, tell us more about azura...

-------------

btw, we'll be @ msia week esok. will u & tuang awang be there too?

Zabs said...

Salam Kak Teh,
I have attended quite a few court cases during my service in the navy, but only as an expert witness.
The one that I particularly remember was a drug case in Kota Bahru. They were caught bringing in drug from Thailand across the Sungai Golok to Kelantan.
From the way the Judge "treating" the prosecutors, I knew from the beginning that the case would go to the accused.
True enough, they were not even call to the stand. The left as free men (two of them), after being arrested about 2 years earlier.

p.s Could I have your full address please? Would like to sent you a card before this Ramandan (my email zainulabs@gmail.com). TQ.

Anonymous said...

Komen Pak Malim, kucing ray yang alim.

Saya tak berapa suka pergi mahkamah, kata Pak Malim sambil duduk dalam khemah. Dah la kena datang pagi-pagi, kata Pak Malim sambil memberus gigi. Tunggu dan tunggu, lepas tu sampai lunch time terasa sangat lapar, kata Pak Malim sambil menggelepar.

Kak Teh said...

atok, i was called twice and twice I had very good reasons and excuses not to go. As for azura - read today's NST laaaa. And by the way, pasal tak ada orang datang nak rescue Azura?

Oh will not be at Malaysia week, lots on my plates, lots on my mind and a tight knot beginning to form in my stomach.

zabs, I think I had enough moments in court - interesting place to be depending where you are.
Will email you my address. Thanks.

Pak malim,
kak teh ke mahkamah ada kerja,
kata kucing kak teh sambil menjaja,
gitulah kalau kita cari makan,
kata yang satu lagi dok ngiow sakan.

Life for Beginners | Kenny Mah said...

I don't doubt one would be hard-pressed to remove oneself emotionally from the proceedings; how DOES anyone do it?

IBU said...

Kak Teh,

Part listening as the judges would take down notes selllloooowwwwwly t u yg paling x sanggup. Adoi... x sabar.

Re Azura, one newspaper reported her as a student, another as a prost. Which one was she? Or both?

Memang nothing is written about anyone helping her. UK domestic criminal case? Or sbb x de talian/kable hayat yg kuat?

Kak Teh said...

Kenny dear,I sometimes wonder too, but people like police and lawyers, they must be made of steel, if not nothing gets done when emotions get in the way.

Ibu, I have emailed you the reply. The Star wrongly quoted Berita Harian. There was no where in Beira Harian that said Azura was a student. The Star pandai2 tambah, their journalist was not even in court.

Sunflora said...

Sad story, sad case. No wonder the UK govt is considering that Malaysians must obtain a visa to go to the UK. What are our girls up to?

And yes the last number I had was 16 death cases of boys under 16. I wonder if it has increased. I do admire you and AG for bringing up sensible kids in London. Its tough in so many ways!

farizahb said...

Kak Teh,

What an interesting life lead. Your cup is definitely full of (honey) from where I am sitting:-). I don't know if I could handle being a reporter, or even a juror. I know I would be emotionally involved and would not be able to be an objective observer at all.

melayudilondon said...

Kak, terbaca kes Nor Azura kat dalam New Paper (S'pore) hari ni. Takde gambar ngeri - cuma beg laundry kotak2 tu je. Tu pun I dah rasa nak termuntah.

JBingkasan said...

Salam Kak Teh,

I tak tau apa orang cakap but I began to work in a newspaper in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia as a court reporter. I was still covering court apart from politics when I joined New Straits Times. Now that I no longe wroked for NST, I am still editing court stories for a Sabah daily.

Yes, court reporting was and is still interesting. I remembered as if it was just yesterday I was with you, Wan and Karim covering the football match fixing case at Birmingham Cround Court.

Our educational trip to Germany still linger in my mind, one that I will not forget for life was whan Wan biought me a beer, a litre of beer in Munich.

Salam to all other member of the family.

wonda said...

Life and death - the same goes for doctors and nurses unless some get emotionally unattached for seeing too many cases.

Kak Teh said...

sunflora, this spate of bad headlines concerning malaysians is not going to help the government's efforts to improve the record.There are several more cases which will surface later.

as for the knife crime, the number has increased and quite dramatically too. I get very worried when the children go out, but I cant lock them up.

Kak Teh said...

farizab, i think the nature of the work is such not one day is the same - yes, I truly enjoy what I am doing and i dont think i can tahan a nine to five job.

melayu di london, police tak nak release gambar dia sebab defence team will appeal. at first they wanted to, and then changed their mind pulak.

Kak Teh said...

joseph, there's quite a few cases that I covered here as well. we had the credit card fraud by five students in Stoke on Trent, remember? maybe before yoru time. But the matchfixing case was interesting - but too far. so was the credit card fraud. we ended up buying loads of plates from royal doulton!

hahaha - I think Hulaimi wanted to see you challenge the Germans - and they too admitted defeat with the amount you could drink.

wonda,ya, i dont think i can be a nurse!

chinta said...

I never been to any court hearing before so I do not have anything to share.

I went to London last few days, ada m'sia week. kebetulan lalu tepi tower bridge tu..meriah juga dan dpt la tengok pelukis2 negara sdg buat 1 km drawing..

where can i get that email? herm, kalau dlm website state halal, how can it be no halal?...tak boleh makan lagi jawabnye..but it's ok, sbb dia bukan KFC..:)

Typhoon Sue said...

i shudder at the thought of how the crime was said to have been committed. Had my share of exposure to criminal cases during student and chambering days. Even went to a couple of autopsies and nearly fainted at the sight and smell of the victim's innards! But I've never been interested in practicing that aspect of law.

As for court cases in general, I know it pains anyone in court to take notes while the judges write down theirs slowly. Imagine being the lawyer submitting the case, and having to talk so slowly so that the judge can finish writing. My brain would already finish the 2nd sentence and my mouth had to do a slo-mo on the 1st one, so there was a time when 2 sentences get squashed together and the judge read it once over and gave me a look that says "What the heck did this bozo made me write down???"

Suffice to say, i had to apologise profusely while the judge gave me an earful.

Kak Teh said...

chinta, I gave malaysia week a miss because i was so busy during the week and i wanted to spend the weekend with my daughter as she is leaving for her holidays. Hari ahad pulak hujan lebat.

abt the email, i will find it for you. But I suggest you find Chicken Cottage- lebih sedap drp KFC and halal. KFC halal ada di Southall.

Kak Teh said...

Sue, i have never been to a postmortem - read too many Patricia Cornwell so much so I can imagine and even smell. Anyway, yes the case was gory. I think you are refering to Azura's case. I could see from a distance only the computer generated graphics - itupun menyeramkan. But i saw pix of the laundry bag, with the valance and skirt soaked in blood - itu pun dah sudah to make me faint.
anyway, the judge in this case spoke very slowly and it was quite easy to write down..one prosecutor mumbled and it was indeed very difficult to follow.

Anonymous said...

cepat, cepat, kerajaan Malaysia, Datuk Masyitah Ibrahim, dan semua pemimpin Melayu Islam yang beri perhatian kepad Sufiah, tolong selamatkan satu lagi umat Melayu yang "tercicir" di UK... Nor Azura

Jasmani, singapura

Kak Teh said...

jasmani singapura, betul, betul manakah orang2 yang beria2 nak tolong Sufiah dulu? Kak teh pun tertanya-tanya juga soalan ini. Semua terdiam sekarang.

ruby ahmad said...

Hello Kak Teh,

I lost my train of thought reading the last two comments here, Jasmani Singapore's & your reply (ha ha) ..with regards to all the politicians who wanted to ride on a moral high ground with Sufiah...though they absolutely have not an iota of talent, insight nor ability to reach out in a humane manner with any of these individuals.

To do this one need tact & kindness of heart & no ulterior motives, period!

Kak Teh, I blame most of the nasty goings-on, on the slide in the level of our once sophisticated education. When I say sophisticated I meant a good wholesome system, with good level-headed, well exposed, dedicated team of teachers. My friends & I, counted it has been 3 decades now...the start of the slide.

Kak Teh said...

Ruby, that was my first question when I heard abt azura. Where are those people who jumped up and down ready to come for the rescue, politians, ministes, bomohs - is it because azura is not as glamorous?

Yes, I certainly agree with you about the slide and decline. When I went home, I was surprised to see behaviour that I never thought I would witness in malaysia. Educationalists, parents all have a lot to answer. There are a lot more stronger forces out there and we need to counter that with stronger family ties, strongers stress on values and education.

J.T. said...

Hi Kak Teh

I have been so out of touch with news that I did not even know about Azura's case. Then I went in search of it and found the article in NST online. :) Thanks!

Some cases are so intense that I wonder how police, lawyers and those involved sit through a case. As you mentioned to Kenny Mah, one must be made of steel.

Many years back (when dad was in the police) he brought back some pics (after the story had gone public) of the three kids who died in an abandoned industrial refrigerator (I think it was in Kapar). It was bad. I could not stomach it. Dad must have been made of steel when it came to his work (and sometimes that hardiness was carried home). :)

Anonymous said...

yes the Azura kes is sad - the interpreter for the police is a buddy of mine - afzan king -whatever was committed was awful and may the victim's family with time forgive her and Allah - i hope there are some among the Malaysian community who can visit her and render support - what about u Kak teh never know - can sell a story and more money in the pot!!- 15 years in prison is a long long time but insyaallah a time to reflect - match fixing - my son hapened to have bruce grobelaar - the liverpool 'match fixer' - now a bankrupt to personally coach him - we have said to him tho - not to ever do a Bruce !

Maulana Arrif said...

Come back and spend your whatever left) life forever in Malaysia. You sound too nostalgic all the time.

Kak Teh said...

JT,luckily I had not covered too many heart wrenching courtcases. As a cub reporter I was asked to cover a plane crash in Malaysia. The hard core journalists were sent to the site of the crash but as a newbie, I was sent to a hotel where relatives came to check lists of passengers names. That was the most difficult for me as there were no survivors most people came, check and just collapse in tears. Then I discovered, among the passengers, was a friend.

anon, yes, a sad case indeed. and yes, interpreter for police is afzan king. There's another interpreter in court throughout the hearing. as for visiting her, yes, arrangements are being made.
The High Commission are also keen to visit her.
Was there throughout Brice Grobellar case too. Lucky son you have to have someone like that to coach,...but yes, dont do a Bruce.

Kak Teh said...

ya maulana arrif, Yes, I think being away makes one very nostalgic and appreciate home. I dont know whether being there personally will make us appreciate it. Blog is certainly a good place to walk down memory lane - and this is what I am doing - walking down memory lane and at the same time relate it to what's happening here. Thanks for the visit.

Chahya said...

heheh...kinda agree with maulana..
I hope you've read my reply to yr comments on the restaurant I went to(Amarin)..hehehe
Anyway couldn't get thru yr blog last few days..only yr empty blog template came out..no postings available
Glad it's ok now.

Kak Teh said...

chahya, yes, I have been going to yr blog and I read yr reply. But I wonder why you said there was something wrong with my blog. I could access it from here everyday. That is so strange...thanks for telling.

BTW janganlah tunjuk gambar durian dalam blog!! Tak acilah macam ni!

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Always heartwrenching to see people charged in court. What led them to that path? So sad that they lost their moment of indiscretion.

I hate bad things happen to me and likewise I don't like same thing happening to others.

You're right abt family values as the antidote to social ills. It's better not to be rich if we can't handle it. It leads to greed and moral decadence. Thinking we are gods and can do anything and get away with it.

Kak Teh said...

Hi&Lo, ya, we will never know what make people do the things they do, or take the path they take. As parents we can only so much and then pray that they will turn alright.

When there's a spate of bad news and heartwrenching stories, I yearn for some positive and good feel factor stories. There's not many around.

Anonymous said...

with time people reflect - as Bruce Grobellar in one of his speeches said -you are given a choice in life - either you want to go the straight way or the bendy way - go by the latter and u pay the price - insyaallah Azura is paying the price but I hope she is also showing remorse - she collapsed in court cos the thought of spending 15 agonising years in a foreign prison must be hard - and amongst hard core women criminals!! - hopefully the Malaysian community in London will see her on a regulat basis not just blow hot and then cold for the next 14 years of her sentence - do u know which prison she is in - Holloway?? maybe we can organise a rombongan - how about it Kak Teh - women volunteers to visit female prisoners!! am dead serious

Kak Teh said...

anon, if we are going to organise a rombongan i do need to know who you are. I can only tell by the location of your IP. Drop me an email.
She is indeed remorseful and certainly needs support. I have done my bit of prison visits and hope to see her soon.

chinta said...

kak teh,
thanks for the info, chicken cottage ada di ediburgh, mmg best! :)

alahai kak teh, sy holiday lagi sampai ramadhan, so tiada di edinburgh..mungkin lain masa kita boleh jumpa..

Kak Teh said...

chinta, berholiday sakan..insyaallah we will meet, somewhere, someday!

NJ said...

Salam Kak Teh,

I read Azura's tragic story from the newspaper with mixed feelings. How can one take another's life with such cruelty, yet I believe Azura was trapped by whatever circumstances she was in.

Yup, mana perginya those powerful/influential voices who wowed to wade thru the turbulance in Suffiah's case dulu? Argh...

Kak Teh said...

NJ, my feelings exactly.

Oh - i remember ministers, politicians and UMNO members and even bomohs being excited. Now the silence is deafening!! is it because the crime is not only prostitution but ALSO MURDER?

No matter what her crime, and she is certainly paying for it now, I certainly think that she needs someone to talk to. and someone to visit her.

The british people - whenever one of them is in trouble abroad, they do all they can to bring them back - or at least give some kind of support.

We should at least - tanya khabar.

OOD said...

.. sigh.

a malaysian in riyadh said...

kak Teh,
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a court case that I followed religiously in Malaysia was the trial of an American guy who was charged under Provision 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act for possessing more than 200 grammes of cannabis, which carries a mandatory death sentence.

Before he was charged without bail, we went out a few times with him. On one occasion, a group of us took him “sight seeing” to the Shah Alam Mosque and Taman Cahaya Bukit Cerakah. While walking in the vicinity of the mosque (a so-called carboncopy of the Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque in Istanbul), under intense direct sunlight without shades of trees, he remarked:
“Why did the developer cut down all the mature trees?”

The trial involved lawyers and judges who are now key players in Malaysia’s legal and political circles. He escaped the death sentence due to persuasive argument by a doctor from Harvard Medical School who has written on “Medical Uses of Illicit Drugs”, that caught the attention of the defendant’s mum who then asked the Dr. to assist in her son’s defense.

By the way, when I was doing A Level, I did appear in a county (?) court as, er, a defendant. Suffice to say, the “crime” or peccadilo, if you like, was related to Leo Sayer (the singer with, er, unique hairstyle). When appealing for mitigation, my Statistics tutor (a Welsh man) extolled this:
“Wan XXX is an exceptionally brilliant student with a bright future ahead of him”.

That’s the only thing good about my brief court appearance (wearing a blue jean, if you must know).

aMiR

Argus Lou said...

Thanks for a most interesting recollection, Kak Teh. Thank goodness you didn't morph into a cynical journalist and remained compassionately human. I've a fond memory of those clunky electric typewriters and Atex terminals, too.

wonda said...

Ah, besides your courting stories, there was a romantic courting story, right?

Ordinary Superhero said...

Dear KakTeh, I am back in one piece. Thanks for your kind visit.

Blabarella said...

Policemen, lawyers and cub journalists aside, I think the person who has the most difficult job is actually the person sitting on the bench. This was one of the main reasons why hubadubs left the judicial service.

PS - Am done blogging, at least for a while. If you need to reach me, you have my YM, email .. or come on and get yourself on F@cebook then will you!! Bolehlah tengok gambar my anak & our recent holiday!! :)

Mama Rock said...

kak teh, i only experience courthouse maybe twice, but all are depressing enough. the only courting i like is the real courting with hubby, then boyfriend :)

Kak Teh said...

OOd, sigh x 2!

aMiR, these are gems that must be recorded! the defendant must be very grateful to his mother - and what love, what dedication she had for him. as for the defendant ala Leo Sayer - priceless!

wonda, romantic courting days? ah yes, arent they sweet.

Kak Teh said...

argus,I still have an old remington which my husband bought at an antique shop. I dont think any store sells ribbons anymore.

OSH, alhamdulillah!

Blabs, I agree with you. The one we had at the bench had a very difficult task. But he had to do his job.
Facebook?....aaaah, give me time.

Kak Teh said...

mama rock - I enjoyed those too. :)

zubin said...

salam kak teh, remember me? zul, we met at ASEASUK exeter 2005, dacing there too, how's things? so are you doing your phd now?

Kak Teh said...

zul, of course I remember you! Didnt we meet in KL last year? I was at ASEASUK Liverpool this year and presented a paper. I thought I'd see you around. Next year will be ASEASUK Glasgow or somewhere in Scotland, I think. Thanks for dropping by.