The Most Interesting Courtrooms in London
Forget spending your day off watching TV dramas and take advantage of London crime at one of these courthouses.
When it comes to free good performance, your choices are pretty limited unless you’re inventive about it. Certainly you can draw lots and be a member of a BBC live recording audience, alternatively there’s always Covent Garden, or watching your neighbours fight, but usually the three aforementioned options tend to lack dignity or real tension. However, some of the best performances, set design and costuming are not to be found in the theatre or on the television, but in the courtroom. Every courtroom in the UK is open to the public to attend trials. Not only is the drama of watching someone being cross-examined riveting, but it the process is a rare opportunity to truly see how the British legal system works and gain an insight into the darker aspects of urban living that the newspapers usually don’t cover. You’ll be able to see everything from drug lords finally getting busted, to more upsetting cases of infanticide, fraud, and disorderly conduct. Check the daily listing of trails at the reception to find one that interests you, take a seat, and spend a day brushing up on your legal lingo.
The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, commonly known as ‘The Old Bailey’ has history running through its corridors and criminals have been on trial at this courthouse since the medieval era (of course, the new building had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666). The Old Bailey is only used for serious criminal cases from Central London, and on occasion, from other parts of the country. This means that here you can expect to encounter major smuggling cases (such as in Feb 2016 the case concerning the smuggling of £33.5 million of cocaine by the pilot ‘Biggles’ into the UK from Germany was undertaken here), cases concerning ISIS recruitment, and all the murder cases a crime fiction writer could ever need to fill a career with. Truth really is stranger than fiction, and the BBC has recently created a series entitled ‘Tales from the Old Bailey’ which reconstructs some of its most famous historic cases. Do be warned that the murder trials do go into explicit detail and are not for the faint of heart (that said, it is perfectly acceptable to leave halfway through a trial: in most courts this is usually to find a more interesting case though that won’t be a problem at The Old Bailey).
Address: The Old Bailey, London EC4M 7EH
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is the ultimate court in all matters of UK law, and is thus the court of last resort and highest appellate court. Housed in Middlesex Guildhall, cases that arrive here are considered of public importance, usually covering cases against public authorities, human rights breaches, and major commercial disputes. Some criminal cases are heard here, though they tend to be more intricate matters that may refer to overarching international laws (for example, a manslaughter case where a lot of alcohol was consumed that took place in the middle of the Channel Tunnel where exact the jurisdiction between the countries involved are in dispute, or a messy international fraud case). For those who want a real intellectual challenge and a springboard to question the ethical structures of UK law, and how they tie into international constitutions, the Supreme Court is the best court to attend. The impressive building’s location in the heart of Parliament Square says everything about the level of cases that are undertaken here.
Address: Middlesex Guildhall, Little George Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 3BD
The Royal Courts of Justice have by far the most beautiful architecture out of all the courts mentioned on this list. The deliberately church-like Gothic Revival building evokes a sense of holy justice that is unfortunately unattainable in the earthly realm. There are no criminal trials here, though you will find criminals coming here to challenge their sentences. Additionally, there are rarely juries, with judges deciding the outcome of the cases alone. Typically the cases that take place here are for libel and slander (such as the case between Katie Price and Peter Andre, and the parents of Madeline McCann suing newspapers for unfounded allegations about them), intellectual property disputes, and insolvency. On a good day you’ll find some interesting commercial disputes (for example, the case between the Spice Girls and Italian scooter manufacturer Aprilia about a contract breach in regards to an advertising campaign), and some very nasty clashes about wills.
Address: Strand, London, WC2A 2LL