One of the more unpleasant experiences in my career was appearing in the High Court as a witness in an action taken against the newspaper; it’s no fun being grilled and pulled apart by a barrister for hours on end.

I felt his style verged on the sarcastic, but I was on his turf and I suppose he felt he was entitled to do the best for his client by making an eejit out of me. We lost the case, as it happens. Probably the right decision on reflection.

Aside from my lasting hope that I would some day get my own back on the little Napoleon in a wig (forlorn hope, of course), the experience made me think about the adversarial nature of our court system, and if it really got to the truth and the real nature of any argument.

With this in mind, I wonder about the way our society is being even more reliant on the judicial process to adjudicate on our opposing views of social change.

The latest example is the charging of the controversial Pastor James McConnell for his comments in which he branded the religion of Islam as heathen.

Brilliant, eh? Drag an ill 78-year-old man into the dock for preaching a sermon in which he said his religion was right and someone’s else’s was wrong. In essence, saying what a lot of other people in Northern Ireland were thinking; agreed very clumsily and, of course, much of which I found nonsensical.

But what happened to free speech? And, indeed, the decision only adds fuel to those who feel among evangelical Christians that they are being persecuted. Persecution is a strong word, but many Christians feel they are away down the pecking order when it comes to their right to be heard. Not, of course, that many fundamentalists do themselves any favours with their own intolerance.

So hostility leads to the courtroom; and there appears to be little even-handedness of some of the decision-making over who is prosecuted. Away from the religious aspect, let me suggest two different approaches to the various strata of society.

There’s little appetite, it seems to me, to see wrongdoing doctors or other professionals in court. But if some youngster from a housing estate gets himself into bother, he’s likely to be straight up the steps. And conversely, some of the low life regular offenders seem to get away lightly enough.

Perhaps this is something of an over-generalisation, but it’s important that the justice system is open, and has the confidence of the community in being applied equally. There is a perception that the case of Pastor McConnell is knocking the confidence that the decision makers of the Public Prosecution Service are not accountable enough.

This all, of course, refers to the criminal law.

We are also seeing the use of the civil courts to sort out situations which either the law-makers or competing groups can’t sort out for themselves.

The story of Northern Ireland woman Sarah Ewart, whose baby had no chance of survival, is heart-rending; after being diagnosed with a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality, she had to travel to England to have her pregnancy terminated because Stormont can’t sort out the law or guidelines for the medical profession.

Now, Sarah’s case is to be decided in the courts.

Similarly, we have the Ashers “gay cake” case where competing views over equality have had to be argued out before the bench. To me, I strongly believe that a customer should never be discriminated against because of their sexuality – or anything else. But I can also see the logic of someone not wanting to be forced to print a slogan that they are morally opposed to.

The case, which is being appealed, isn’t about logic, however. At least, the courts don’t and can’t see it that way; they apply be letter of the law. And if you think that the proposed conscience clause will help, think again. Who will define conscience anyway, and expect another court test case if ever the clause made it on to the statute books.

Therein lies the problem; people take up positions to defend, but that leaves little accommodation afterwards.

Recently, I heard a talk given by Nigel Owens. Apart from being probably the best referee in world rugby, Nigel has a remarkable and emotional story to tell about coming to terms with being gay, which led to him attempting to take his own life. He is an amazing man, very courageous, but what I found even more remarkable was his balanced outlook on life, his tolerance of others’ hostility and the way he deals with situations in life in an understanding way.

Someone like gay activist, Peter Tatchell, however, strikes me as the sort of man whose first resort is to confront and insist on his rights. He has recently suggested that churches should not be allowed to opt out of gay marriage; kerching Mr. Barrister.

And on the subject of gay marriage, it seems to me only a matter of time before someone in Northern Ireland will head for the courts to rule on this matter, with European Human Rights in conflict with Stormont.

Everyone’s into their rights; everyone on every side that is. Hence, the busy legal system of courtroom dramas.

We have lived in a litigious age for some time; claims about compensation for whiplash in a car accident or a sprained ankle after tripping up on the pavement. And so on.

What we’re seeing now is much more significant. In a modern new world of social change in terms of attitudes to sexuality, religion, free speech and a range of rights, can we really expect the law and the courts to adjudicate on moral issues of conscience?