Instalment 28: pages 113 - 116 [Waiting in the police station, Elliot tells Danielle about his trial the previous year for running a man down]
“But it was an accident,” she said. “No-one thought you did it deliberately, did they?”
“Not the issue. You can still get seven years for culpable driving, reckless indifference to human life. The DPP went for me pretty hard. I’d also told the police I was doing eighty-three or eighty-five in an eighty zone. The prosecutor suggested that I confessed to that because actually I was going much faster. There wasn’t anything in the skid mark analysis from forensic services to back that up, but it didn’t look good – grown men don’t just deliberately walk out in front of cars. Hard thing to explain to a jury.”
My thoughts flickered back to the night, headlights slewing across the dark tarmac, the body sprawled like a broken bird. Me, walking over in desperate misplaced hope, to ask if he was all right. Running back to scrabble under the car seats to find where my mobile had ricocheted to rest. Then beginning the first stretch of waiting until the blue and red lights and white cars arrived.
“Who was he?” she asked quietly, as if reading my thoughts.
I hadn’t thought I’d discuss this again. I was still a little in shock, perhaps, or maybe it was the year spent thinking about it, silently rehearsing the details; but my answer unreeled of its own accord, automatic, as if I were only a spool for my story.
“The man? I thought they were joking at first. This policeman asks me, Does the name Arthur Calwell mean anything to you? So I say, Populate or perish. He gives me a blank look. Year 10 history, I say, post-war minister for immigration. Well, he tells me the name in the man’s wallet was Allen Calwell, that I misheard. They breathalysed me, nothing much. But the toxicology report on him –”
“You saw the autopsy report?” asked Danielle.
“It doesn’t belong to the police. Forensic services has to provide an impartial report to both sides. Anyway, his blood alcohol level was high enough to stop a rhino. That was what my lawyer, the lawyer Marina’s dad found for me, wanted to run with in front of the jury – a man, very unfortunately, has paid for his drunken and stupid actions with his life, now a young man’s future is in your hands.”
“Sounds convincing,” she said.
“Until you put a twenty-four year old male in the dock. No jury would convict a mother of two for it, but everyone with a TV knows men under twenty-five have horrific testosterone-charged accidents.”
“But they let you go?”
“Yes, in the end …” I replied, thinking of what else it had taken to clear me, and the further damage I had had to do to Allen Calwell.
“And because of the trial they wouldn’t let you become a lawyer?”
Suddenly, my eyes ached, felt full of grit – as if it had been a long time since I slept, not just the six or seven hours since I’d left this woman’s bed.
“A bit more complicated than that,” I sighed. “I am a lawyer, what I’m not is a licensed solicitor. To be a solicitor, you have to be formally admitted to the Supreme Court. It’s a big day, all your law school mates there, your family – well, my grandfather. They do it in batches of about thirty or forty young hopefuls. It’s a nervous moment for most people. You have to get a solicitor or barrister to stand up and formally move your admission, say the magic words: ‘I move that so and so, my friend, daughter, whatever, be admitted as a practitioner of this honourable court.’ Then you’re supposed to take an oath, along with everyone else who’s being admitted in that ceremony, all at once like a sing-along. Three judges preside. One of them was the judge at my trial. When Marina’s Dad stood to move my admission, the judge stopped him. It was just excruciating. I caught a glimpse of my grandfather’s face: he just didn’t get what was going on at first, he looked like his world was about to collapse. So the judge calls for my admission papers, in front of everybody, looks them over and discovers that I hadn’t disclosed that I’d been tried for culpable driving occasioning death.”
“But you were innocent,” whispered Danielle.
“That’s what three academics at the ANU told me – Elliot, you’ve nothing to declare, acquitted by a jury of your peers, you’re innocent in the eyes of the law. That wasn’t the ruling of the three judges though.
“They didn’t say I couldn’t be admitted because I’d stood trial for killing someone, but that it was something I should have disclosed for them to consider. Which meant they refused my admission, but left the door open for me to try again later. Though they didn’t say whether another application would succeed. It’s a wonderful lawyer’s phrase, It is not necessary to decide at this time …”
I paused and drew breath, before continuing: “Anyway, the day is meant to be a celebration. Long lunch with your family and the person who moves your admission, but … I just had to try and explain to Pop what had happened.” I stopped again, my throat tightening. I had thought I was passed this. “He was trying not to cry, Danielle. While they swore everyone else in, he started, though. Couldn’t help himself. The room was too packed with other people’s relatives for him to even get outside. Do you know what crying in public means to a man his age? He just got trapped there, in front of everyone. No dignity. Just like me.”
“Where were your parents?” asked Danielle.
I looked up, dumbfounded: “Marina told you everything else, but not that?”
We sat a moment, and Danielle was about to say something else when the door opened.