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Rough justice - by James Archer

Drama on the theme of justice and mercy.


(Scene: a law court.  Cast: Judge; John Goodman and Nick Crook, defendants; George, a court attendant)


George    Pay silence in court!  Be upstanding for his honour Mr Justice Peace!  (Enter judge; he motions to audience to sit, and                 sits down himself)

Judge       What’s the first case, George?

George    Mr John Goodman, m’lud.

Judge       I don’t know him.  Let’s see the papers ….. hmmm ….. pretty black.  Let’s see what he’s got to say for himself.  Send                  him in, George.

George    Call Mr John Goodman.  (Enter Goodman)  Mr Goodman, m’lud.

Judge       Good morning, Mr Goodman.

Goodman Good morning, m’lud.

Judge       And what are you here for, Mr Goodman?

Goodman Well, to be quite honest, m’lud, I can’t imagine why you should have had me thrown into that horrible dingy cell for                    the night.  I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve it – nothing, m’lud.  I’ve been a good man all my life and I’ve never                broken the law.  I’ve always been on friendly terms with the police and I’ve even helped out on the neighbourhood                    watch.  And now you go and shut me away for the night for no reason at all.  Pardon the audacity, m’lud, but might I                venture to suggest that you’ve got a case of mistaken identity.  There must be hundreds of John Goodmans, and I’ve                    never done anything bad enough to land me in court.  M’lud, I do believe you’ve got the wrong man!

Judge       Not so fast, Mr Goodman.  Let me read out the charges, and then you can decide whether to plead guilty or not                        guilty.  There are so many that I’ll start off with a summary, and if you want the details you can ask for them.  First of                    all, there are 217 cases of speeding …..

Goodman But I never go much above the limit, m’lud!

Judge       No, most of them are five to ten points too fast, I agree, but it’s still speeding.  One for careless driving – yes, of                        course you were late for church – and one for driving while under the influence of alcohol …..

Goodman But you can’t expect me not to drink at the Christmas party, m’lud!

Judge       No, but you could have taken a taxi home.  Next, there’s 38 different bicycling offences, most of them committed                     dozens of times;  53 library books you borrowed and never returned; ten perfectly good milk bills you disputed and                   paid less for than you ought to have done; one month’s television when you failed to renew the licence; 27 paper clips               stolen from work; and you don’t think London Underground hasn’t noticed the pile of sweet papers at Bank station                     which grows bigger every evening just after you leave work?  Dear me, this list goes on and on.  Perhaps you ought to               plead on those charges first?

Goodman M’lud, may I object in the strongest possible terms to all that you’ve been saying.  You haven’t got an ounce of proof                 for any of these charges, and its quite ridiculous you bringing them against me of all people – a respectable member                 of society who has kept his hands clean from crime.  I’ll sue you for slander, and …..

Judge       Mr Goodman, do you plead guilty or not guilty?

Goodman You must be joking, m’lud.  Everyone does those sorts of things.  There’s nothing much wrong with them anyway.                        Why are you accusing me when there’s millions of other people doing the same things?

Judge       Mr Goodman, what other people do has got nothing to do with this trial.  We are concerned with whether you have                 or have not broken the law.  Are the charges true or false? ….. Mr Goodman, I am asking you a question.  Are the                   charges true or false?

Goodman True, m’lud.

Judge       And do you plead guilty or not guilty?

Goodman Guilty, m’lud, but I plead mitigating circumstances, I …..

Judge       I see no mitigating circumstances whatever.  You knew what the law was, and you deliberately and regularly infringed               it.  You have shown not the slightest remorse for your crimes, and I am convinced that, unless I punish you fully, you                   will carry on just as before.  Where’s my calculator? ….. Speeding fines, £20 each; careless and drunken driving,                   £300; bicycling offences, £15 each; library fines, 10p per week per book, some of them outstanding for twenty years               …..

Goodman Twenty years!!

Judge       ….. with interest, of course; milk bills, £25 each …..

Goodman Twenty-five pounds!

Judge       ….. for fraud; television licence, £62; paper clips, say £5 each; litter fines, as the notices say, £20 each …..  I think                a round figure of £10,000 would be fair, if not generous …..

Goodman Ten thousand pounds!  I haven’t got that much money in the world!  Don’t be ridiculous, m’lud!

Judge       Mr Goodman, if you refuse to pay, you go to prison instead.  I would have thought that if you sold your car and your                 stereo system, there would be only a little more to make up ….. No? ….. Take him away! ….. (Goodman is led                       away) ….. What’s the next case, George?

George    Nick Crook, m’lud.

Judge       Again?  It seems no time since I fined him for stealing car radios.  What is it this time, George?

George    Well, m’lud, this time he hasn’t just stolen the radio, he took the car as well!  (Hands him the file)  …… Skidded on ice               a few miles away and smashed into a car coming the other way.  The other driver broke his leg, and he’s a                             professional footballer; both cars were write-offs.  Of course, he’s not insured, and he hasn’t got a penny he can call                 his own except what he’s stolen.  No hope for him, I’m afraid; another couple of years and he’ll be into house-                         breaking, and after that …..

Judge       That will do, George.  He’s here to face the charges for what he has done, not for what he might do in the future.                     Send him in, George.

George    Very good, m’lud.  Call Mr Nicholas Crook! (Enter Crook) ….. Mr Crook, m’lud.

Judge       Good morning, Mr Crook.

Crook      Watcher Judge!

Judge       And what are you here for, Mr Crook?

Crook      Downright stupid, I was.  I was just lifting this geezer’s radio when I noticed the stupid fool had left his keys in.  I was                 sitting in the driver’s seat, when I looks up, and sees the bloke returning – he looked ready to kill me.  In me panic, I                   revved the car up and burnt off up the road.  I don’t remember much more till I wakes up in hospital.  And then they                   tells me I smashed into me favourite footballer.  It was just so stupid.

Judge       I have to agree, it was stupid, and that doesn’t alter the facts – two cars wrecked and a man who’s lost his livelihood                 through no fault of his own.  He’s filed a suit for £250,000 in compensation, and the minimum fine for theft,                             dangerous driving and driving without insurance is £2,500.  What are you going to do about it?

Crook      Well, I dunno.  I wish I could pay it, every penny, but I can’t;  you know I can’t scrape together £100 never mind                     hundreds of thousands.  It’s pitiful.  I’ve really learnt my lesson this time, though; no more stealing for me, all I want is a               good job, if I can, so I can pay back every penny.  I tell you, I’ll not be nicking any more Mars bars from the shop on                 the corner, nor will I ride half fare on the bus, like I’ve been doing these seven years.  No, I’m done with crime.

Judge       I’m glad to hear it, Mr Crook; unfortunately, there’s the small matter of £252,500 to pay, and as you can’t pay it, you               have to go to prison.  I wish I could do otherwise, but I have to uphold the law.

George    (Knocking on door)  Knock Knock

Judge       Who’s there?

George    Postman.

Judge       Postman who?

George    Postman Pat, m’lud.  He’s got a letter for Mr Crook.  It says, “Very urgent, first class, strictly private, to be opened                        immediately”.  (Hands it to Crook)  Sounds like a Readers’ Digest raffle ticket.

Judge       George, surely you know better than to interrupt the court with such trivia!  (To Crook)  Well, what does it say?

Crook       It’s a cheque!  (Slowly reading)  “Pay Nicholas Crook” – that’s me – “the sum of two hundred and fifty-two thousand                  five hundred pounds only”.  And it’s signed ….. (looks curiously at it) ….. it’s signed with a cross. (All freeze)

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