I had my day in court today. Well it wasn't really a court it was just a small and windowless room in a Singaporean Administration building. There was no judge or jury either. The matter was presided over by a little bloke about the same age as me. He was sitting at a desk in a suit and tie. I was hoping for guys in wigs and stenographers recording transcripts. I had envisioned making impassioned pleas to citizens who had been called up for jury duty just to hear my case. I had prepared both my opening and closing statements that were full of rhetoric and colorful language. So sitting down across the table from a little bloke with spectacles and a ball point pen was a bit disappointing.
To say the least.
The court that my matter was heard in is a part of the Singaporean Subordinate Judicial process. These courts were developed as a tribunal system to resolve small claims or disputes. They are not courts though. They are just small windowless offices.
The word 'tribunal' has it's origins in the thirteenth century and was derived from the Latin word Tribunus. A Tribunus in ancient Rome was literally the 'leader of the tribe'. These leaders were empowered under Roman law to settle disputes between different parties.
Their word was final.
The Tribunus in my legal matter with was a Singaporean chap named Arthur. My combatants were a legal firm I shall refer to as ABC. Their representative in my matter was a young Singaporean lady named Suzy. She seemed very nervous when I met her in Arthur's office and she also appeared to be quite vague about the nuances of my case. Her handshake was insipid when I introduced myself and she was nursing a very thin manila folder with only a few pieces of paper inside. These scant few documents seemed to be the sum of the case against me.
ABC are a fairly large legal firm here in Singapore and they were representing one of the big telecommunications companies who have been annoying me for more than a year now. I won't refer to ABC by name as I have found them to be a tenacious bunch of fuckers who have the potential to endeavor to take further action against me simply because they can. I rate lawyers and the legal profession at about the same level I rate used car salesmen – which is not very highly. In my previous experience with the legal fraternity I have found them to be much over-valued and not particularly bright. I think that professionals who bill their clients in five minute blocks tend to serve themselves more than they serve justice.
I have previously described some detail of this fiasco in an article called "Justice". I went to court today seeking justice.
I went to clear my name.
Despite the advice of my best mate Berty in the US I chose to represent myself in the matter with the telecommunications company. Berty has had much more experience than me in legal and court matters and he strongly recommended that I employed counsel to act in my defense. I told Berty that it was a simple and straightforward case of mistaken identity and I felt quite comfortable in representing myself.
The matter involved a debt recovery action for the sum of $1123.37. The telecommunications company alleged that I owed them this amount for an unpaid mobile telephone bill. The debt is not mine.
It never was.
I have never had a mobile telephone with this particular company and I established very early on in the piece that the phone and the debt belonged to a man named Charles Peters. The telecommunications company in fact confirmed this to me quite some time ago but I somehow got lost in the machine. It eventually ended up with a debt collection company and then with the ABC lawyers. In the end I simply couldn't be bothered explaining the situation over and over again to different people so I thought I would bring it to a head by letting it go to court.
Charles Peters was not in attendance at the court proceedings. I was hoping to call him as a witness but I had been unable to locate him. I don't think that the ABC law firm had even tried to find him. They thought he was me.
This was the root of the whole problem.
The proceedings commenced when I opened the door to Arthur's office. As I have mentioned earlier his office was tiny and windowless. Suzy from ABC was already inside and seated and both she and Arthur stood when I entered and we all shook hands. I told them that I hoped that I hadn't kept them waiting for very long and that I was a little disappointed that the proceedings were not being heard in a proper court of law with a jury and wigs and a stenographer. Arthur looked impassive at my comments and Suzy looked like she was about to cry.
I could smell her fear.
I asked Arthur whether I should refer to him as 'Your Honour' and he told me that I should just call him Arthur. I told him that if he didn't mind I would like to call him "Your Honour" anyway. I told him that I had spent some time preparing some fairly wicked opening and closing statements in my defense and it seemed only proper in a legal situation. He told me that he didn't mind and he actually seemed a little chuffed. I could see Suzy's hands shaking a little as she fumbled with her manila folder. She could tell that I had struck a chord with our arbitrator and I felt that I already had her on the back foot.
The term 'on the back foot' has it's origins in cricket. It relates to a batsman who is forced to take a step backwards because the ball that has been bowled to him is so fast and ferocious it literally forces them into a defensive retreating position.
There was a bit of an awkward silence at the commencement of proceedings so I took the bull by the horns and told Arthur I would like to make my opening statement. He nodded his consent. Suzy looked terrified and she continued to fumble with her manila folder.
I made a pretense of looking at my notes and told Arthur with no small amount of dramatic flair that I had been a victim of a prolonged attack of harassment by Suzy's client for more than a year. I told him that despite my repeated claims of innocence of the debt I felt that the Telecommunications company had persisted in a campaign of threats and terror against me. I told Arthur that I was here today to not only seek justice for myself but to also send a message to this corporation that little people like me should not and could not be harangued.
I told Arthur that I felt my name had been besmirched.
Arthur gave a small chuckle in retort and he calmly told me that he only had the authority to determine whether I should pay the debt or not. He asked Suzy if she had a copy of the original contract for the mobile phone in question and with trembling hands she removed a document from her folder and handed it to him. Arthur adjusted the glasses on the bridge of his nose and perused the document closely. After a minute or so he asked me if my name was Charles Peters and I told him it was not. He then reeled off an eight digit Identification number and asked me if that was my Employment Pass number.
I again told him that it was not.
Arthur then asked me if I could show him my Employment Pass card. All foreign workers such as myself are issued with such a card. They are emblazoned with our photograph on one side and our right thumbprint on the reverse. We are given unique identity numbers. I pulled my Employment Pass out of my wallet and handed it over. After only a quick glance Arthur handed the Pass back and told Suzy that she had the wrong man.
He told me that the case against me was dismissed and that I was free to go.
As I rose to my feet triumphantly I asked Arthur whether he could apply punitive damages against the Telecommunications Company that had wrongfully erred me. He smilingly told me that he had no such authority but asked - out of pure interest he said - what amount I thought would be appropriate. When I suggested a figure of one hundred million dollars he laughed out loud.
So did I.
Suzy did not.
Arthur told me that I could lodge a claim for costs if I had incurred any in this matter. I told him that my bus fare from the office was about eighty cents but I hadn't kept the receipt. Arthur told me that I could collect a claim form for this expense from the front office if I wanted to. I told him that it wouldn't be necessary and that I felt that justice had been served today. I told Arthur that I thought that eighty cents seemed like a fair price for justice in this instance.
I shook hands goodbye with both Arthur and Suzy. Arthur seemed quite pleased with the proceedings and I certainly was.
Not so poor Suzy.
She just looked miserable.