Is it scary giving evidence in court? Yes, when you notice a knife lying on a chair in the main foyer of the court.
I was in a south Auckland court today and to start with, the day didn’t seem anything unusual. Whilst waiting around for the case to start, I glanced to my left and there, glinting in the fluorescent bulb light, was a knife. It sat there, on the chair between me and a lady who was busy texting, seemingly oblivious to the knife on her right. My vulnerability was suddenly starkly apparent and I casually glanced around to see if there was a police officer to whose attention I could bring this knife. Nope. No police officers. Was there any court security? Nope, none of them either. How about a plain clothes police officer or some sort of court official? Nope, none of those either.
So what do you do? It didn’t seem right to ask the lady if the knife was hers. I was also suddenly aware that not all of the people who are milling around in a court foyer are necessarily very emotionally stable. Certainly, there was at least one man rocking in his chair; on the other side of the foyer, two people were suggesting to each other in loud voices from close quarters that they would see each other in court (on opposite sides, I assumed); I was there on behalf of one party involved with an alleged assault matter.
So I did the only thing I could do – I went to the Fines Counter next door and advised them as calmly as possible that there was a knife lying about in the waiting room next door. The hand of the counter clerk flew to their mouth in surprise and minor shock, followed by looking around to find someone to deal with it – the same problem I had: no-one. That meant that the counter clerk had to go and retrieve it. I bet that’s not part of the job description.
Although today’s minor excitement only involved an ordinary dinner knife, it was still capable of being used as a weapon and causing a fatal injury. Many courts overseas have permanent court security staff with or without an x-ray machine and full body scanner and I’ve had my fair share of bag searches, but never in New Zealand. I’ve always thought there was a case for having court security in every court, particularly after a man stabbed himself in the neck with a knife in Wellington District Court last year, but I’ve never been able to point to more than one violent occurrence (it’s a long story – but it’s in my book – due out next year!). Now I know there is definitely a case for security staff, and possibly searching people as they enter the building. And I’m back at the same court in a few days’ time….