Old Bailey

The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales (commonly called the Old Bailey, after the street on which it stands) is a court in London and one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court. The street, outside, traces the City of London's ancient fortified wall (and bailey), which runs from Ludgate Hill to the junction of Newgate Street and Holborn Viaduct. The Old Bailey has been housed in a succession of court houses on the street since the sixteenth century. The court's present architecturally recognised and protected main block dates from 1902, designed by Edward William Mountford. Part of the building stands on the site of the medieval Newgate gaol.

Central Criminal Court of England and Wales
Old Bailey
The Old Bailey in 2004
JurisdictionEngland and Wales
LocationLondon, EC4
Coordinates51°30′57″N 0°6′7″W / 51.51583°N 0.10194°W / 51.51583; -0.10194Coordinates: 51°30′57″N 0°6′7″W / 51.51583°N 0.10194°W / 51.51583; -0.10194
Recorder of London
CurrentlyNicholas Hilliard
Since6 January 2015

The Crown Court sitting at the Central Criminal Court deals with major criminal cases from within Greater London and in exceptional cases, from other parts of England and Wales. Trials at the Old Bailey, as at other courts, are open to the public; however, they are subject to stringent security procedures.


Newgate gaol in 1810. For much of its history, the "Old Baily" court (among other spellings seen) was attached to the jail.
An Old Bailey trial, c. 1808.
Plaque commemorating Bushel's Case of 1670
Lady Justice statue on the top of the court building
A little Sessions House at the time, the court is shown in Christopher and John Greenwood's 8 inch-to-mile map published in 1827 from an 1830 republication (click to view all).
South Block extension

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 the gaol and rooms for the sheriffs, made possible by a gift from Richard Whittington. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 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 60 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 at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1834.[1]

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 trials of major cases. Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service manages the courts and administers the trials but the building itself is owned by the City of London Corporation, which finances the building, the running of it, the staff and the maintenance out of their own resources.[2]

The court was envisaged as that where only criminals accused of crimes committed in the City and Middlesex were tried. However, in 1856, there was public revulsion at complaints sent to police against 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 1856 was passed to enable his trial, and others with a public profile, to be held at the Old Bailey.

The Old Bailey adjoined Newgate Prison until the jail's 1902 closure. Hangings were a public spectacle in the street outside until May 1868. The condemned would be led along Dead Man's Walk between the buildings, and many were buried in the walk itself. Large, rowdy crowds sometimes gathered and pelted the condemned with rotten fruit and vegetables and stones.[2] After 28 people were crushed to death when a pie-seller's stall overturned, a secret tunnel was made between the prison and St Sepulchre's church opposite the crossroads, to allow the chaplain to minister to the condemned without having to force his way through crowds.[2]

The present building dates from 1902 and was officially opened by King Edward VII on 27 February 1907. It was designed by E. W. Mountford and co-occupies the site of the demolished prison. Above the main entrance is inscribed the admonition: "Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer".

On the dome above the court stands the court's symbolic gilt bronze statue of Lady Justice by sculptor F. W. Pomeroy (made 1905–1906).[3] 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, but 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.[4]

During the Blitz of World War II, the Old Bailey was bombed and severely damaged, but reconstruction work restored most of it in the early 1950s. In 1952, the restored interior of the Grand or Great Hall of the Central Criminal Court was once again open. This hall (underneath the dome) is decorated with paintings commemorating the Blitz, as well as quasi-historical scenes of St Paul's Cathedral with nobles outside. Running around the entire hall are a series of axioms, some of biblical reference. They read:

"The law of the wise is a fountain of life"
"The welfare of the people is supreme"
"Right lives by law and law subsists by power"
"Poise the cause in justice's equal scales"
"Moses gave unto the people the laws of God"
"London shall have all its ancient rights"

This hall (and its floor) is also decorated with many busts and statues, chiefly of British monarchs, but also of legal figures, and those who achieved renown by campaigning for improvement in prison conditions from 1700 to 1900. This part of the building also houses the stenographers' offices.

The lower level also hosts a minor exhibition on the history of the Old Bailey and Newgate featuring historical prison artefacts.

In 1973, the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA exploded a car bomb in the street outside, killing one and injuring 200 people. A shard of glass is preserved as a reminder, embedded in the wall at the top of the main stairs.[2]

Between 1968 and 1972, a new South Block, designed by the architects Donald McMorran and George Whitby, was built to accommodate more modern courts; 18 in total are used. Court 19 is used variously as a press overflow facility, as a registration room for first-day jurors or as a holding area for serving jurors.

The original ceremonial gate to the 1907 part of the building in Warwick Square, on the western side of the complex, is the "Lord Mayor's Entrance" and only used by the Lord Mayor and visiting royalty. The general entrance to the building is a few yards down the road in the South Block and is often featured as a backdrop in television news reports. A controlled rear entrance, not open to the public, gives discreet access.

A remnant of the city wall is preserved in the basement beneath the cells.


Until 2017 the court manager was known by the title of the Secondary of the City of London, an ancient title of a City officer.[5] Today the more prosaic 'Head of Operations' is used.


All judges sitting in the Old Bailey are addressed as "My Lord" or "My Lady" whether they are High Court, circuit judges or recorders. The Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City of London are entitled to sit on the judges' bench during a hearing but do not participate in hearings. Where a ceremonial tradition is followed a judge, sitting sole, sits off-centre in case the Lord Mayor were to decide to come in, who would take the centre chair.

The most senior permanent judge of the Central Criminal Court has the title of Recorder of London, and their deputy has the title of Common Serjeant of London. The position of "Recorder of London" is distinct from that of a recorder, which is a part-time judicial office, holders of which sit part-time as judges of the Crown or county courts. Many criminal law advocates with QC/KC status and leading profiles sit as recorders across the London region. The recent Recorders of London were and incumbent is:

Civic roleEdit

Entrance to the original block of the Old Bailey, now only used for ceremonial purposes.

The court house originated as part of the City of London's borough judicial system, and it remains so. The Recorder and the Common Serjeant are City officers, and the Recorder is a member of the Common Council because he is also a member of the Court of Aldermen. The City's sheriffs and the Lord Mayor are justices there, but their jurisdiction is now nominal. The sheriffs are resident with the senior judges in the complex. In Court 1 are benches set aside for the committee of Bridge House Estates, the owner of the building.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gugliotta, Guy (April 2007). "Digitizing the Hanging Court". Smithsonian. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d James, David (31 January 2010). "It's murder every day in the Old Bailey". The Sunday Times Magazine. London. pp. 20–26. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  3. ^ "Justice – Frederick William Pomeroy". Victorian Web. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  4. ^ Colomb, Gregory G. (1992). Designs on Truth: The Poetics of the Augustan Mock-Epic. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 50. ISBN 9780271039640. OCLC 463716684.
  5. ^ Secret London: The Secondary
  6. ^ "Obituary: Sir James Miskin". The Independent.
  7. ^ "Warrants Under the Royal Sign Manual". www.thegazette.co.uk.
  8. ^ "Next Recorder of London announced".

External linksEdit