The Royal Courts of Justice

On Thursday 5th and Monday 9th of January 2012 I was given exclusive access to The Royal Courts of Justice in London. In a building where camera are not allowed I was given access upon agreement that the copyright of all images taken on the grounds of The Royal Courts of Justice would be owned in a copyright sense by The Royal Courts of Justice and The Ministry of Justice. During these two hour long sessions I tried to express my vision of what is one of the most spectacular buildings in London.

History
In 1868 George Edmund Street, R.A. was to be appointed the sole architect for the Royal Courts of Justice and it was he who designed the whole building from foundation to varied carvings and spires. Building was started in 1873 by Messrs. Bull & Sons of Southampton.

There was a serious strike of masons at an early stage which threatened to extend to the other trades and caused a temporary stoppage of the works. In consequence, foreign workmen were brought in – mostly Germans. This aroused bitter hostility on the part of the men on strike and the newcomers had to be housed and fed in the building. However, these disputes were eventually settled and the building took eight years to complete and was officially opened by Queen Victoria on the 4 December 1882. Street died before the building was opened. Much of the preparatory legal work was completed by Edwin Wilkins Field including promotion of the Courts of Justice Building Act 1865 and the Courts of Justice Concentration (Site) Act 1865. A statue of Field stands in the Courts.

Parliament paid £1,453,000 for the 6-acre site upon which 450 houses had to be demolished. The building was paid for by cash accumulated in court from the estates of the intestate to the sum of £700,000. Oak work and fittings in the court cost a further £70,000 and with decoration and furnishing the total cost for the building came to under a million pounds.

The dimensions of the building are: 470 feet (140m) from east to west; 460 feet (140m) from north to south; 245 feet (75m) from the Strand level to the tip of the fleche.

Entering through the main gates in the Strand one passes under two elaborately carved porches fitted with iron gates. The carving over the outer porch consists of heads of the most eminent Judges and Lawyers. Over the highest point of the upper arch is a figure of Jesus; to the left and right at a lower level are figures of Solomon and Alfred the Great; that of Moses is at the northern front of the building. Also at the northern front, over the Judges entrance are a stone cat and dog representing fighting litigants in court.

On either side are gateways leading to different courts and to jury and witness rooms from which separate staircases are provided for them to reach their boxes in court. During the 1960s, jury rooms in the basement area were converted to courtrooms. At either end of the hall are handsome marble galleries from which the entire Main Hall can be viewed.

The walls and ceilings are panelled in oak which in many cases is elaborately carved. In Court 4, the Lord Chief Justice’s court, there is an elaborately carved wooden Royal Coat of Arms. Each court has an interior unique to itself; they were each designed by different architects.

There are, in addition to the Waiting Rooms, several Arbitration and Consultation Chambers together with Robing Rooms for members of the bar and solicitor-advocates.

The Royal Courts of Justice are the nation's primary civil courts. The High Court presides over the most serious civil trials in the country, including divorce, libel, civil liability and appeals. Criminal cases are handled by the Old Bailey.

The Royal Courts of Justice is composed of 35 million bricks faced with Portland stone. The building contains over 1,000 rooms and 3.5 miles of corridors.

The interior of the Royal Courts of Justice is as magnificent as the façade. The public are admitted to all 88 court rooms and can come and go as they please, although Judges will not accept interruptions when they are passing judgement or witnesses are taking oaths. In addition, private family cases of a sensitive nature are not open to the general public. Prominent lists in the central hall indicate which case is being held in which court and how far the proceedings have reached. The Royal Courts of Justice also contains a small exhibition of legal dress.

Opening Times: Mon-Fri: 09:30-16:30, Closed Public Holidays

The Royal Courts of Justice
Strand
London
WC2A 2LL
United Kingdom
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