As part of this weekend’s Temple Open Weekend – it turned out that the Royal Courts of Justice – just on the other side of the road – were also opened up, as it was here that they were holding the mock trials etc., which I had presumed were occurring inside the Temple itself.
As an extra special bonus – they were also allowing photography inside the building, although naturally not inside the court rooms. I have been inside the building a few times, as it is quite a wonderful interior, but never allowed to take photos before, so today was a double surprise.
As you go inside the building, there is the usual security checks and metal detectors – I guess taking a weapon inside a court house could be problematic. Then you are into the awesome Great Hall which dominates the center of the building. Running along the Great Hall on the second floor are the main court rooms, and there are two staircases leading to the upper floors on either side of the Hall, along with four spiral staircases recessed a bit further back. There are also more court rooms at the rear of the building just past what is called the Undercroft – even though it is on the ground floor, not in the basement which is where Undercrofts are usually located.
For all the splendor of the building, the most fascinating visit I ever had was some years ago on one of the London Open House Weekends, and they took us down into the plain and unadorned areas where criminal prisoners are held. There, the security guards gave us a very good talk about the problems and difficulties in handling prisoners, and keeping them locked up. They have six cells, but you can’t, for example – put a drug dealer in the same cell as a person who hates drugs – nor mix the sexes. So even with six large cells each capable of holding quite a few people – they can actually run out of space very quickly.
It is worth noting that the Courts are not criminal courts, but they may need to bring convicted prisoners who are involved in a civil law cases to the courts, hence the prison cells.
Being a law court, you can actually go in whenever the courts are sitting – although some restrictions can occur when notable cases are being held. Anyone can sit in the public galleries inside the court rooms and watch the trials, with the exception of private family cases.
The building itself is not actually that old – with construction starting in 1873 and the Courts formally opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. The architect, George Edmund Street died during the construction.
Rather interestingly, I also found out today that there are guided tours available on the first and third Tuesday of every month. The tour cost a mere Â£6 and lasts an impressive 2 hours.
As usual – more photos on my Flickr account