As there is a requirement for justice to be seen to be done, trials at the Old Bailey, as at other courts, are open to the public, subject to stringent security procedures.
The court originated as the sessions house of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of the City of London and of Middlesex. The original medieval court was first mentioned in 1585; it was next to the older Newgate prison, and seems to have grown out of the endowment to improve Newgate prison and rooms for the Sheriffs, made possible by a gift from Sir Richard Whittington. It was destroyed in the 1666 Fire of London and rebuilt in 1674, with the court open to the weather to prevent the spread of disease. In 1734 it was refronted, enclosing the court and reducing the influence of spectators: this led to outbreaks of typhus, notably in 1750 when sixty people died, including the Lord Mayor and two judges. It was rebuilt again in 1774 and a second courtroom was added in 1824. Over 100,000 criminal trials were carried out in the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1834, including all death penalty cases. In 1834 it was renamed as the Central Criminal Court and its jurisdiction extended beyond that of London and Middlesex to the whole of the English jurisdiction for trial of major cases. Her Majesty's Courts Service manages the courts and administers the trials but the building is owned and run by the City of London Corporation, who finance the building, the running of it, the staff and the maintenance out of their own resources.
The court was originally meant to be the site where only criminals accused of crimes committed in the City and Middlesex were tried. However, in 1856, there was revulsion at the accusations against the doctor, William Palmer, that he was a poisoner and murderer. This led to fears that he could not receive a fair trial in his native Staffordshire. The Central Criminal Court Act of 1856 was passed to enable his trial to be held at the Old Bailey.
In the 19th century, the Old Bailey was a small court adjacent to Newgate Prison. Hangings were a public spectacle in the street outside until late into the century. The condemned would be led along Dead Man’s Walk between the prison and the court, and many were buried in the walk itself. Large, riotous crowds would gather and pelt the condemned with rotten fruit and vegetables and stones. In 1807, 28 people were crushed to death after a pie-seller's stall overturned. A secret tunnel was subsequently created between the prison and St Sepulchre’s church opposite, to allow the priest to minister to the condemned man without having to force his way through the crowds.
The present building dates from 1902, but it was officially opened on 27 February 1907. It was designed by E W Mountford and built on the site of the infamous Newgate Prison, which was demolished to allow the court buildings to be constructed. Above the main entrance is inscribed the admonition, "Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer". King Edward VII opened the courthouse.
On the dome above the court stands a bronze statue of Lady Justice, executed by British sculptor F W Pomeroy. She holds a sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in her left. The statue is popularly supposed to show blind Justice; however, the figure is not blindfolded: the courthouse brochures explain that this is because Lady Justice was originally not blindfolded, and because her “maidenly form” is supposed to guarantee her impartiality which renders the blindfold redundant.
People who appeared at The Old Bailey
People mentioned in this Wiki that appeared in the courts of the Old Bailey:
- Gabriel Lawrence
- Oscar Wilde
- Princess Seraphina
- William Griffin
- Thomas Wright
- Thomas Newton
- Michael Lupo
- Oscar Wilde
- Marquess of Queensberry
Old Bailey photographs from 100 years ago
Old Bailey Online – search the archives: http://www.oldbaileyonline.org