Gwendoline approached the bench. It was her first time in a courtroom. She hadn’t expected the bright lights. Or the sprawling studio audience. Or for there to be three judges, all of them celebrities.
‘Present your case,’ said the middle judge. Gwendoline wasn’t very good at celebrities, but she thought this one might have been in girl group back in the Nineties.
‘Well,’ said Gwendoline, more distracted than nervous, ‘my neighbour’s tree has been growing over the fence onto my property for two months now. I’ve asked him multiple times to cut it back, but he refuses. It was blocking sunlight from some of my flowers, and they were beginning to die, so I trimmed it myself. But only on my side of the fence. Then the next morning my flowers had been trampled. I didn’t see him do it, but I know he did. The police refused to do CSI.’
‘Boring!’ declared the judge on the right. An ageing man trying to look like a young man who planned to die before thirty.
‘I’m sorry?’ said Gwendoline.
The judge on the right leaned back in his chair with a sneer. ‘That’s a boring case. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the drama? I mean, a tree branch? Who wants to hear about that? If you can’t give me a murder or an assault I’m not interested. Go smack him with a shovel or go home.’
‘Well I liked your sincerity,’ said the judge on the left, famous for being famous. ‘It’s easy to get blinded by the murders and assaults, the shiny objects of crime, but it’s the little things that really matter. You gave us a beautiful glimpse into day to day life. Your case was simple, your case was personal, your case gets my vote.’
The audience roared with applause.
‘Sorry, but what’s happening?’ said Gwendoline.
‘It’s quite simple,’ said the host, who Gwendoline had also been wondering about. ‘Reality talent shows are so much more popular than the legal system we decided to jazz it up a bit and copy their structure. So now there are three judges, and one of them is mean. They listen to your cases and then pick the ten most interesting ones to go to trial.’
‘What about the cases you don’t pick?’ said Gwendoline.
‘They go home.’
‘What about justice?’
‘We like to think that is justice.’
‘Then the people at home vote for their favourite and they win the case.’
‘The audience favourite wins the trial?’ said Gwendoline. ‘Shouldn’t it be person who’s in the right?’
‘But what if they’re ugly? Or not very charismatic? Nobody would watch that,’ said the host. ‘No, it’s whoever presents their case in the most entertaining way. It helps if you have a sad back story or a dying family member in the audience that we can cut to. I don’t suppose you’re struggling with a debilitating illness or escaping painful memories from your past?’
‘That’s none of your business!’ said Gwendoline.
‘You’re never going to win with that attitude,’ said the judge on the right.
‘This is insane.’
‘Is it any more insane than the way the system used to work?’ said the host.
‘What, more insane than the winner being the person with the most money? At least this way poor people are in with a chance.’
‘Well, I suppose…’
‘And now that the legal system is popular with the mainstream, it’s much harder for the government to manipulate it for the benefit of corporate interests.’
‘Look, this is the way it is now, so are you going to put on a show or are you going to let your neighbour get away with trampling your flowers?’
Gwendoline looked out at the audience, barely visible behind the surprisingly hot lighting. The judge on the right had begun to text.
‘I suppose I could tell you about how growing up we couldn’t afford to live somewhere with a garden, and finally having a flower patch was the realisation of a lifelong dream?’
‘That’s the spirit!’ said the host. ‘Now it’s time for another ad break!’