He sat in the courtroom, head bowed. He was in pain, fighting to stifle his groans. His son stood in the dock. The 19-year-old was facing charges of armed robbery and a knife attack. Father and son struggled to avoid eye contact.
A courtroom drama was unfolding before my eyes. An embarrassed son and a distraught father make for a heart-wrenching scene. What followed was a series of emotion-charged events that could hold a lesson for every child.
The father, who seemed to be in his early 50s, looked hesitant, scared and ashamed of the awkward situation brought upon by his son. The teenaged son in white prison garb entered a not-guilty plea in a soft voice. The father stood up and walked slowly towards the judge but was asked to return to his seat.
“I’m his father,” he said.
“The legal procedures do not require your presence, so kindly get back to your seat,” the judge responded.
The tearful father stood, clutching hands as if in prayer, pleading for a chance to speak. But the judge was unmoved. Resigned, the heart-broken father slowly returned to his seat.
The son continued to stare at the floor impassively, perhaps in an attempt to avoid looking at his dad who was now wailing. When the judge asked what he expected from the court, the accused teenager stood mute, not knowing how to respond.
The judge asked: “What do you want from the court? Do you want to defend yourself? Do you want a ruling, or do you want to appoint a lawyer? What do you want?”
It was quite evident that the suspect, a student, didn’t comprehend the judge’s question as he continued to remain silent. Raising his voice, the judge asked him to look up, and repeated the questions. The embarrassed suspect lifted his head, stole a quick glance at his weeping father and muttered: “I don’t know. What do I do? What should I do? I didn’t steal!”
The judge explained to the suspect that he could defend himself, or he could hire a lawyer to defend him, or he could ask to be sentenced.
“I didn’t do it. I wasn’t with them,” the suspect replied in a frightened tone. By now, the father’s groans rent the courtroom. The judge had had enough. “Come over here. What do you want from the court?” the judge asked.
The tearful father rushed towards the bench and held his hands together in near supplication and said: “Your honour, I am his father. He’s just a child. He is only 19 and didn’t know what he was doing. I’m here to ask for leniency. Have mercy on him. Please, sir, he’s very young. He’s my son.”
His words seemed to have an impact. In a soft tone, the judge replied: “He is 19 years old, which is above the legal age limit. He has entered a not-guilty plea, and we have noted that. A verdict will be passed next month.”
“Thank you, sir. Thank you very much,” the father told the judge before returning to his seat.
When the prison wardens moved to take him away, the 19-year-old turned towards his father and nodded at him. The father removed his glasses and buried his face in his hands. The charges against his son seemed to have shaken him.
At this point, it is easy to get swayed by emotions. But law and justice have no feeling. It has to be applied without prejudice. It’s foolhardy to expect leniency if the charges are punishable by law.
We as citizens and residents have to respect the law. And we must avoid placing parents in embarrassing situations. They have taught us to be law-abiding people. So, when a crime is committed, they find it difficult to accept it.
Everyone in the courtroom felt the father’s pain. His fear, shame and embarrassment were evident. No father would want to go through that. Every child must protect his father’s pride.