I take a seat at the back of the courtroom and pull out my notebook, preparing to take detailed notes about the case. No, I'm not a journalist - I'm a law student. Our current project is to research one of our local area's current criminals. My candidate is Nicholas Parker - known to some as "Nick". Considering he's my age, Nick's sure has committed a hell of a lot of crimes. Theft, breaking and entering, destruction of property... The list continues.
"Order!" The judge calls from her podium, bashing her gavel on the wooden board. My head snaps up and I peer over at door where a black-haired boy with handcuffs binding his wrists. Nick.
"Nicholas Parker, you have been accused of partaking in illegal street-fighting. Do you deny this charge?"
"No." He mutters, scowling at the judge and slumping down in his seat. The policeman on his right hauls him up by the neck of his shirt so he's sitting with good posture again.
"Do you plead guilty?"
"Yeah, fine." I frown as he answers the question. He must have been in this position too many times to really care if he's going to be locked up again.
"Then I sentence you to a week in prison. And this time, no visitors."
Nick, who had been trying to hook some gum off his shoe with the other, looked up suddenly, shock and anger on his face.
"What do you mean no visitors? I have rights!" He yells at the judge. The jury starts murmuring to each other, wondering what the judge's reaction would be.
"Order, order!" The judge calls definitely, bringing her gavel down hard on the board three times.
I scribble all that's going on down in my notebook, as planned, whilst keeping an eye on what's happening down on the floor of the courtroom. Just as I glance up, my eyes lock with Nick's. He can barely see me from up here, but even though, he still sends a flinch-worthy glare in my direction. In response, I stick my tongue out at him and watch as his lips quirk up in a ghost of a smile. I roll my eyes and go back to scribbling down some more notes. The gavel sounds, echoing around the courtroom and I jump violently.
"I will take this matter into discussion with my colleagues." The judge announces to the courtroom before waltzing out with other members of the court following her.
I sit anxiously, waiting to the see the verdict when someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and see one of the officials.
"Ms Winters?" He asks; eyebrows knitted together. I nod.
"The judge has requested your presence in the hall." He informs me. I give another nod before grabbing my bag and coat and following him down the stairs to the floor of the courtroom. As we start walking to the hall where the judge and the officials are in discussion, I glance back at Nick who's looking at me through narrowed eyes. Guess he thought I was on his side. I blush guiltily before walking through the door.
"Ah, here's our law student!" One of the officials exclaims motioning me over.
"I still say he doesn't deserve visitors." The judge continues, not even looking up as I enter the room.
"Yes, but you can't go against his basic rights, they have to be allowed visitors. It's in black and white!" Another official argues back.
"But how else am I meant to punish him? I can't have him sentenced to more than a week because of the education system; he's getting used to it!" The official who motioned me over says, waving his arms around to get across his point.
"Excuse me," I say, and suddenly everyone's attention is on me. "I agree with you" - I motion to the judge - "but you can't deny him the right to visitors."
"Then what do you suggest?" They ask raising their eyebrows.
"You could give him community service? Or sentence him to detention at college? Or house arrest, so his every movement is tracked?" I say, fiddling with my hands under their scrutiny.
"That could work." Official #2 says.
"Yes." The judge agrees, smiling slightly "Does that mean we've come to an agreement then, gentlemen?"
"I believe so." Official #1 says, giving me a not-so-subtle thumbs up. I grin.
"Thank you Ms Winters, you're free to go."
I'm led out of the hall and back into the courtroom. I go back to my seat without sparing a glance to Nick, whose gaze is burning a hole into my navy cardigan.
"We have come to the unanimous agreement that Nicholas will receive full rights whilst imprisoned.." Nick looks up at me and I tap the side of my nose. He shakes his head.
"... but will be given two months of community service." Nick looks back up at me, and shakes his head again - only this time it sends across a different message. I shrug my shoulders. That was the best I could do. And anyway, I'm meant to be researching him, not affecting what type of punishment he's meant to get!
Everyone starts to make the move to leave and I pull my burgundy coat on before looking down at the judge who gives me a reassuring nod. Maybe taking law wasn't such a bad idea.