Old Bailey

Category: Law and order

The Central Criminal Court, commonly known as the Old Bailey (a bailey being part of a castle), is a Crown Court centre (higher criminal court) in central London, dealing with major criminal cases in Greater London and, exceptionally, in other parts of England. It stands on the site of the medieval Newgate Gaol, in the street also called Old Bailey which is situated between Holborn circus and St Paul’s Cathedral.

The present building dates from 1907 and was designed by E.W. Mountford. Above the main entrance is inscribed “Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer”.

All judges sitting in the Old Bailey are addressed as “My Lord” whether they be High Court, circuit judges or recorders. The Lord Mayor of London and aldermen of the City of London are entitled to sit on the judges’ bench during a hearing but do not actively participate in trials.

On the dome above the court is to be found the statue of justice, a woman (without a blindfold), holding in her right hand a sword standing for the power to punish, and in her left hand a balance standing for equity.

Although most court hearings in the UK are public, Court No. 2 has the peculiarity that the witness box is placed underneath the public gallery, thus ensuring the anonymity of witnesses in trials where it is needed.

During the Blitz, the Old Bailey was bombed and severely damaged, but subsequent reconstruction work restored most of it.

From 1968 to 1972 a new South Block was built containing more modern courts.

The most senior permanent judge of the Central Criminal Court has the title of the Recorder of London, and his deputy has the title of Common Serjeant of London. The present Recorder of London is His Honour Judge Peter Beaumont QC, who was appointed in December 2004 following the death earlier that year of his predecessor, His Honour Judge Michael Hyam. The present Common Serjeant is His Honour Judge Brian Barker QC. The position of Recorder of London should not be confused with that of Recorder, which is the name given to lawyers who sit part-time as Crown Court judges. A select number of the most senior criminal lawyers in the country sit at as Recorders in the Central Criminal Court.

Sir John Mortimer, a criminal barrister, often appeared at the Old Bailey. His courtroom experiences led him to create the fictional character Horace Rumpole, alias Rumpole of the Bailey.

Trials in the Old Bailey are open to the public, like most criminal trials in the UK, but it is forbidden to take any form of note in writing, and no form of electronic equipment, including mobile phones, can be brought in.


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