Friday, May 9, 2003

Unexpectedly cool moment at court

I saw the niftiest thing in Canberra yesterday afternoon.

Surprisingly, it had to do with filing documents in court. You see, when you run a court case you generally need to serve on the other side “sealed” copies of documents. So you take an original and some copies into the court registry and file it, and the court clerk puts the original on the case file, and stamps the copies you have brought with you. This is why litigators do things in triplicate: one for us, one for them, one for the court. With me so far?

Now, all law firms have people in their own “registry”, or “filing clerks”, and their job is, several times a day, to make a run down to the court and file documents. This works well for routine things that are just ticking over according to schedule. Now, to rely on a document in court, again generally speaking, it has to have been filed with the court and a sealed copy “served” on the other side with three clear days before the next time you’re due in court. It’s a rule designed to stop nasty surprises being sprung. When things are running late (ie most of the time) this can lead to interesting situations.

Most court registries close at 4.30 pm, so when documents are ready only at the last minute it’s often too late to send them through the firm registry to the court. This means the most junior solicitor available is sent to file the document. While working in Sydney my firm was only four blocks or so from the court, and most of the time it was faster to walk (or run) down to court than catch a taxi. However, at several court registries big metal roll-a-door shutter things would start to descend at 4.30, but the rule was, if you made it in before the shutter came down, then they had to accept the document. Many times I’d arrive suit-sweaty, muscles burning, and would be only just early enough to avoid having to do an Indiana Jones commando roll under the descending metal shutter.

Man: “Hello, let me in, please, I -”

Court clerk (yelling): “You can’t come in, it’s after 4.30.”

Man: “No you don’t understand, I – ”

Court clerk (still yelling): “No you really can’t come in, it’s the rule.”

Man: “I’m the solicitor-general for the Commonwealth! This is where I collect my mail!”

And that kiddies, is why you should not forget your security pass.

So, yesterday I happened to be in the Supreme Court in Canberra and saw a girl in casual pants and hooded jumper roller-blading across the forecourt. She then trotted up the first set of steps. I realised she was carrying documents in her arms. She rolled through the doors and onto the foyer carpet, and then began sideways jogging up the two flights of stairs to the registry. Another guy in a suit with a bundle of documents met her on the stairs.

“Are you allowed to wear those in here?” he asked.

“No one’s stopped me yet,” she replied and glided off towards the document filing counter.

It was one of the most practical things I’ve ever seen from a law firm. Barristers should really get into that. They’d look great zooming along, robes fluttering behind them …

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