A small door behind the judge’s Bench creaked open and Denham’s head poked out. ‘All rise!’ he called, before striding in and ascending the steps to his seat. He had a slim, handsome face, with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses perched upon a Roman nose. He sat down, switched on his laptop, and adjusted his chair. Blades of sunlight sliced through the room, entering by the windows near the ceiling and plunging to the floor. In the glow that they cast, the air shimmered with dust, lending the scene an ethereal quality.
Tom and Anna stood and bowed. They were in the first row of a set of old, wooden benches. Behind them was the dock and in front of them was the well of the court, with the desk where Denham’s clerk was stationed before being furloughed. Beyond that was Denham himself, peering at his screen and typing on his keyboard.
They sat, waiting for Denham to call on Blake. Tom’s eyes roamed over the friezes and panels that decorated the room, then came to rest on the empty jury box that ran along the wall to his left. What I wouldn’t give for a jury trial now, he thought, pulling his mask away from his mouth to cool down. He’d always believed that his greatest professional strength was his ability to perform in front of jurors: he had no mastery of the law, and was hardly adept at constructing legal arguments, but he had a knack for finding words and phrases that triggered the desired response within his audience and lead them, almost ineluctably, towards the conclusion he sought. He viewed himself as a man of passion, not erudition, and it was by conjuring passion in others that he’d won so many cases. Not anymore, though: his stirring, muscular prose was given short shrift by judges—especially the new recruits, who seemed eager to establish their authority within a system undergoing rapid change.
Of course, he had to admit that juryless trials had their advantages—beyond reducing infections. For one thing, he was willing to believe they were a more reliable means of achieving justice. After all, a lying defendant is less likely to fool a professional judge than he is a lay juror. For another, they were quicker, and—he told himself—there was value in that. No time was spent empanelling jurors, no minutes wasted herding them into their seats, and no hours lost listening to judges summing up the evidence at the end of each case. So yes, juryless trials were less exciting; and yes, on a personal level, they left Tom feeling somewhat disarmed. But they met the need for expedition, and—probably, possibly—the need for justice.
As Tom watched Denham leaf through a file, he wondered: if juries don’t return, will the courts of the future be fitted with ornamental jury boxes—little nods to the past, like the Restoration mourning hood on the back of a barrister’s gown? Or will their architects be instructed to erase every vestige of the old order?
‘Right,’ Denham barked, looking up. ‘Do we have Mr Blay?’
Anna jumped to her feet. ‘Blake, Your Honour,’ she said softly.
He ignored her and fiddled with a remote control, mumbling: ‘We have to do everything ourselves, you see.’ And then: ‘Ah, here we go …’
He’d switched on the HomeScreens: one above the dock, the other above the jury box. He clicked and typed and tapped some more, grumbling about the link and the time, when eventually the screens were filled with the image of an empty chair in a bare white room.
‘Hello,’ the judge called out. ‘This is Inner London. Scrubs, do you hear me?’
There was a deep electric hum as the audio kicked in and a voice boomed back: ‘Just fetching Mr Blake for you, Sir.’
A moment later, Michael Blake entered the frame. He was dressed in a standard-issue pale grey tracksuit and his head was shaved. He sat down, placed his arms on the desk in front of him, and stared into the camera, his forehead glistening with what Tom assumed was sweat.
Denham spoke slowly, as though addressing a foreign student: ‘Can you hear me, Mr Brake?’
Blake nodded, so Denham proceeded to read him the indictment. He nodded again when he was asked whether he maintained his pleas of Not Guilty—and with that, Denham turned to Tom.
‘Yes, Mr Wells,’ he said, sitting forward expectantly.
Tom rose to his feet. ‘May it please Your Honour—’
Denham immediately raised a hand. ‘We’re all permitted to be here, aren’t we?’ he asked.
Tom and Anna nodded.
‘Well, then I think we can afford to trust the technology the government has inflicted upon us, and dispense with these,’ he pointed at their masks, which Anna and Tom swiftly removed. ‘And one other thing, while I think of it,’ Denham went on: ‘as you’re both aware, standard practice at present is for courts to sit late. Whilst I would normally do that, I’m afraid that I’m unable to today—so I can tell you now, before we begin, that I’ll be rising at four, and not a minute later.’
Tom glanced at Anna and caught her eye. He shot her a smile—phew—but she didn’t respond.
‘Right,’ Denham straightened up. ‘When you’re ready, Mr Wells.’
‘Your Honour,’ Tom resumed, ‘I represent the Crown in this case, and My Learned Friend, Ms Hart, represents the defendant.’ He opened his laptop, clicked on his notes, and began:
‘Mr Blake faces a four-count indictment. I shall address each count in turn, but first let me say a little about the case as a whole. Fundamentally, it concerns arrogance: the arrogance of a man who, at a time of national crisis, considered himself to be above his fellow Britons. A man who rejected the primacy of the common good and the sacrifice it entails, in order to pursue his own private interests.’
Tom saw Denham grimace. Shit, he thought, he’s not liking this. He skipped the rest of the paragraph, which was mostly rhetorical anyway, and jumped to the part where he outlined the law.
‘In response to the ongoing emergency,’ he said, ‘Parliament introduced two pieces of legislation, each addressing a wide range of institutions and processes. First, the Emergency Powers Act was passed. I mention that simply because the powers it created, although initially intended to address a short-term crisis, ended up providing the basis for the more extensive powers that were introduced two months later, in the Emergency Protections Act.’
Denham interjected: ‘Mr Wells, you can assume that I’ve been following events.’
‘You Honour, yes. I’m grateful for the … clarification.’ He wasn’t, of course, but he composed himself and ploughed on. ‘It is that second Act,’ he said, ‘which creates the offences on this indictment. Now, if I might sketch those for you, Your Honour.’
Denham nodded slowly.
‘Count one: leaving home without reasonable excuse. I realise that Your Honour will be familiar with this offence, so I’ll keep this brief. In short, it means that an individual may only leave his home if (a) he is a certified key worker and has green clearance on Contaxx; or (b) he has what the Act terms a “reasonable excuse”. Leaving home in any other circumstance is a criminal offence. In this case, Mr Blake is not a key worker, but My Learned Friend will argue that he had a “reasonable excuse” for leaving his home. The Crown do not accept this.’
‘Very well.’ Denham sounded satisfied, as if convinced of the Crown’s case already.
‘Counts two and three: Transmission by recklessness. This occurs when an individual engages in activity which results in his transmitting the virus, and he does so without regard to the risk of transmission. He needn’t intend transmission, and he needn’t know that he is carrying the virus. But he must be aware that there is a risk of both. The prime example, of course, is that of a nurse tending to patients without using protective equipment or observing the appropriate protocols.’
‘And finally, count four: causing death by reckless transmission. This occurs—quite simply—when an individual, A, transmits the virus to another, B; and B then dies as a result. Again, A needn’t intend transmission—intentional transmission being a separate offence—and he needn’t know that he is carrying the virus. But he must be aware that there is a risk of both.’
‘Thank you, Mr Wells.’ Denham looked up. ‘Now, is your witness ready?’
‘Um … Your Honour, yes. Although, I had thought I might lay out the facts of the case first.’
‘Won’t your witness do that, Mr Wells? Isn’t that the point of his evidence?’
‘Your Honour …’ Tom stalled. Denham was cutting his speech short, wasting hours of preparation. ‘Y-yes,’ he conceded. ‘Of course.’
‘I think I’ve got his name here,’ the judge said, squinting at his laptop.
‘It’s Sergeant Ian Copley, Your Honour.’
‘Right,’ Denham sighed. ‘Let’s have Sergeant Copley then, shall we?’