Royal Courts of Justice -- Watching a trial review
I'm back in court again... off to see the judge this time. I've got my toothbrush and my pyjamas all packed in case he wants to put me away. I should be alright though -- I'm only here to watch a trial. I came on a tour the other day so I thought I'd come back and see something for real.
I'm sitting in the same little cafe as last time, but there's actually some people in here now. It's a work day so there are lots of lawyers and briefs and guilty people too. One guy has still got his white wig on like they wear inside the courtroom. He's just queueing up like everybody else, waiting to buy his cup of tea. I wonder why they make them wear those silly wigs and gowns? The solicitors are much better dressed in sharp suits and Blackberrys, haircuts all slicked back like Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Educated voices too -- I can hear them all talking behind me and it's all oh yah, ha ha, jamie's off to manchester. His judgement has gone against him apparently, whatever that means, and he needs to recharge his juices. He doesn't sound too disappointed though. But I don't suppose he cares because he's only the brief. It's the criminal who has to go to prison isn't it -- he's downstairs in the cells while we're up here drinking medium lattes from the coffee shop.
I'm going to have a walk around the courts in a minute and pick a place to sit. It's pretty easy to get this far: all you've got to do is stroll through security (past the security scanners and a pat down from the guard) and straight past reception. On the other side of the desk is a wooden display case showing everything that's playing today. It's a bit like reading through the TV Times — this case is rubbish, this one's alright, I might stay in for that one. To be honest it was all gibberish to me. It's all written in legalese and makes about as much sense as a geordie talking Chinese. When I was on the tour the other day I found out that all the cases are listed in order of seniority, so if you want the best judge then pick whatever's on the left.
I must admit that it was a little bit intimidating standing outside the courtrooms, plucking up the courage to go inside. The place is a maze of long empty, echoing corridors, and you can walk the whole length of them and not see a soul. It's just you and the sound of your own footsteps. When you finally tip-toe up to a wooden court door there is invariably no one around to ask what to do. There are no bouncers at the door or anything like that. No ushers. No one there to stamp your ticket. It's just a big shut door and you, facing each other off in a cold cavern corridor. That is where you need to find some courage and walk in. Just take a deep breath, my lad, you can do it. Man up! Creak open that big coffin door and stride inside.
A word of advice before you head in: remember to turn off your mobile phone for chrissakes, because you will definitely get stared at by the judge if it rings. He might even lock you up for a thousand years. Especially if it's one of those annoying ringtones.
I ended up in Court 14 which is a real good-looking court (I think they are all pretty much the same, from what I could tell). It's all wood-panelled walls and leather seats, green velvet curtains and old bookcases filled with dusty tomes. The lawyers are all wigged-up in their black gowns, and the judge has his little black number on with a red sash. There are also plenty of suited solicitors sitting around, taking notes.
Guest – Thanks Craig I've been thinking about going to see a specific case but I have a feeling that although the case interests me a lot, I don't think I'd find the long drawn out procedure worth the journey. Maybe I'll go on the final day
Admin – It's a beautiful building to visit and well worth seeing inside, but I agree that the court cases themselves can be rather boring. This is going back a few years now, but I used to work as a court reporter once (one of those typewriter stenographers) and most of my day was spent trying not to fall asleep. The other half was spent listening to lawyers talking mumbo-jumbo legalise. People think it's going to be dramatic like on the TV, but its rather slow and sedate. I'd still definitely recommend a visit, though, if only to see inside.
Guest – You should never enter with a mobile phone - its not allowed.
Admin – I’ve just double-checked on their website, and you are allowed https://www.gov.uk/entering-court-or-tribunal-building
Guest – Can you book a place in the public gallery to watch a case at the RCJ?
Craig – Friends and family members of those involved in the case can sit in the front rows which are always set aside for them (along with the barristers and court reporters), but if you're just a normal member of the public, then no. you can only sit in the couple of rows at the back, so if there's a specific case that you're interested in then you might want to arrive a bit early.
I’ve been here before…
Events at Royal Courts of Justice…
|Political events in March|
|Political events in April|
|Political events in May|