5 Things I Learned From 2 Hours in a Courtroom


Image taken from www.kgcourt.sarawak.gov.my


On Thursday I spent 2 hours in the Kuching Court Complex, which is located across river. No, I wasn’t convicted or anything, I went there to conduct a mini-ethnography for my Anthropology & Sociology class, which is pretty much observing the behaviours and societal patterns of a particular society. My group members and I chose to conduct a courtroom ethnography since everyone else was going to places like a church or a bar. We arrived there at 8:30am and we found out that the Court of Appeal was in session, so we went for that. We spent about 2 hours in the courtroom, after which we left because we had gathered enough information. Here are the five things I learned from simply being in the courtroom, taking notes and watching everyone.


1.     Criminals are every day people who live among us

About 20 minutes after we took our seats in the courtroom, the doors opened and a huge crowd of people shuffled in. Initially, I didn’t think much about it, but when I turned around to see who had walked in, my entire body tensed. There were about 8 or 9 people in bright green uniforms, and each person was literally handcuffed at both hands to two law enforcement officers. Some of them looked downright scary, others looked just like ordinary people who probably didn’t look like they were capable of hurting even a fly. When the judges walked in and took their seats, I found out that some of them were murderers and some were drug mules. One of the felons was accused of smuggling drugs via PosLaju, can you believe that? That was in 2010, around the same time I frequented PosLaju to collect my parcels. For all I knew, he was collecting his parcel the same time I was! Knowing that gave me the chills.


2.     It is entirely possible for another person to judge you and determine if you live or die

Every day you hear people saying, “don’t judge”, but seriously, who won’t? Some people are even paid to judge! And those people are usually the ones who determine your fate should you be committing a crime. It’s funny how your life is in the hands of a regular human being in a robe, sitting on a pedestal and holding a gavel. Sorry, Miley. Not only God can judge ya.


3.     As long as you’re holding a piece of paper and a pen, people will assume you are a reporter

Because we were sitting at the back row closest to the door, legal assistants always came to sit next to us. Two of them even asked me how many of these cases I’ve been assigned to cover, because he assumed I was a reporter. I told him I am a student, and this project was for my assignment and he looked surprised. I then told him it was for my Anthropology and Sociology class and he gave me a very confused look and said, “What IS that?” 


4.     Lawyers never run out of things to say

In 2 hours, we only managed to sit through 2 appeal cases. The first case took approximately 10 minutes before the judge made a decision. The second case took over an hour because the lawyer who was presenting his case kept going on and on about the “incriminating evidence” and after 20 minutes, he would go back full circle and repeat everything he was saying from the start. Naturally, I was already restless and itching to leave at the end of his speech. It was as if he was recording an audiobook for the entire Bible, dammit. Even the two legal assistants whispered among themselves, “Oh, this guy banyak pattern la.”


5.     If you’re a woman, the likelihood of you being the person who distributes case files and takes attendance is high

That day, there was only one female lawyer. When we walked in, we saw many men, and a few women. What were the rest of the women doing? Taking a headcount, recording the attendance of the accused, distributing case files. Where all the women at? It definitely proves what we learn during our Gender Studies class– that women are not likely to hold high-ranking positions in the professional sector.

Author: Natalie Ha

I remember being enthralled with the written word ever since my parents started reading fairytales to me at a young age. Seeing the power it has to influence behaviours and mindsets, I have learned, over the years, to translate my thoughts onto paper, in an attempt to positively disrupt the lives of others. Having my written works published in various forms of media has empowered me to weave stories that people can resonate with. I look forward to the life-long process of perfecting this craft, and hope to see my work touch the hearts of many in the future. This blog attempts to do just that - and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy penning it down.

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