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The great fear of the unknown

The great fear of the unknown


Undergoing surgery has given Russell Conway a taste of how intimidating the court process can be

I was told it was a 'routine examination', nothing to worry about, and that I was in safe hands. Nothing could possibly go wrong and I would be out 'in a few hours'.

I don't know about you but when I'm told by professionals that there is nothing to worry about I always start fretting, and in this case, as I made my way to the hospital, I was more than just nervous.

I was having a gastroendoscopy. This means they insert a tube down your throat which has various gizmos on it, such as a spotlight, video camera, and some tweezer-like contraption to take biopsies if required.

There is, of course, a routine that takes place beforehand. At least six people ask you your name and date of birth. One can only conclude that the wrong people are sometimes given the wrong procedure. This started me fretting even more. Finally, I went into an operating theatre which looked rather like a cross between the flight deck on an airliner and a torture chamber: all bright lights, control panels, and high-tech equipment. Stainless steel tools gleamed in the light.

I was now very nervous indeed. It's that great fear of the unknown. And it's that fear litigants have going to court.

Most people have never been to court. They have seen it on TV and they often confuse criminal courts with civil courts. Clients dislike the idea of having to stand up, give their evidence, and, worst of all, be cross-examined.

The fact is that clients have the same fear of courts that I do of hospitals. Most of these fears are irrational, but the simple fact is that nobody likes to do something they have never done before.

Courts are foreboding buildings, and they contain people in strange robes and wigs. Some clients have simply refused to attend a hearing as they are too frightened to do so. Even witnesses sometimes duck out at the last minute because the fear of a court appearance is too great.

Maybe the recently mooted idea of having courts in informal spaces such as schools and libraries (or even suitable solicitors' offices) is not such a bad idea after all. For my part, I like to give clients a firm grounding in what they are likely to expect. I encourage them to go to a court beforehand to experience what actually happens. Having seen it all you are better able to deal with it.

Solicitors generally take the client's fear of court for granted, which is a mistake because this is a genuine fear and needs to be addressed. Sadly, the NHS does not allow visitors to have a quick peek at surgical procedures. Perhaps they should?

Cosmo the Labrador has no similar fear of the vet. The local vet has a rather well-stocked shop at the front with juicy bones, treats, and toys, all of which make the vet one of his favourite places to visit.

Perhaps we should have pop-up courts in restaurants
or toy shops?

Russell Conway is senior partner at Oliver Fisher @Russboy11