The Old Bailey – The Central Criminal Court Where the Hardest of Criminal Cases are Heard:
If you’re wandering around Central London, in the vicinity of St Paul’s, you will no doubt come across London’s Central Criminal Court, more popularly known as The Old Bailey. The Old Bailey has been London’s main criminal court for centuries and is probably one of the most famous criminal courts in the world.
The Old Bailey is located on the street of the same name. If you stand in street across from the building and look up, you’ll see the gold-leaf statue of Lady Justice perched on top of the dome. With her commanding view over the streets of London, Lady Justice is the personification of the moral force of the justice system. She holds a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other. Inscribed in the top level of the entrance, above the columns, are the words “defend the children of the poor and punish the wrongdoer”.
If while admiring the building, you see a flurry of reporters and camera crews gathering around the entrance, you’ll know that a famous case is being heard that day.
Cases at The Old Bailey
The Old Bailey has been hearing major criminal cases for centuries and as the London Crown Court centre it hears criminal cases from the City of London, Greater London as well as those sent to it from all over England and Wales. Many famous crims have met a sticky end at this court of justice. Some of the famous cases held here include the infamous Kray Twins and the Yorkshire Ripper (Peter Sutcliffe).
This Central Criminal Court building was constructed in 1907, replacing the original Old Bailey courthouse which was built in 1539. The site on which it stands was occupied by the notorious Newgate jail which was London’s main prison from the 13th century.
Witnessing a Trial at the Old Bailey
If you want to get a feel on how the British justice system operates in London’s principal criminal court, you can turn up and sit in on a trial – reservations are not permitted. To ensure that justice is seen to be done under the British legal system the public have a right to watch the trials.
Admission is free and visitors have to be above the age of 16, or if between 14 – 16, they must be accompanied by an adult. The nearest Tube is St Paul’s.
[If you plan on visiting, please note that this is a serious criminal court and that security is stringent. It’s best to come without backpacks or mobile phones as you may not be allowed in. There are no facilities for storage, but apparently the Bailey Cafe across the road will store your bag for £2. It amazes me to read that a couple of people have actually complained about not having a warm welcome by the security guards and about being asked to empty their pockets. This is not a tourist attraction and personally I think people should be grateful to even have the opportunity to sit in on these criminal trials.]
The Old Bailey has been mentioned in many books and used as the setting for television series and movies such as Witness for the Prosecution and the Patriot Games.
Central Criminal Court
Map of London: