The Royal Courts Of Justice - The Strand - London
The Royal Courts of Justice was opened by Queen Victoria in 1882 and became the permanent home of the Supreme Court. The history of the administration of justice in England and Wales spans many centuries. By the mid-19th century‚ a number of separate courts had come into existence at different times and to meet different needs. Many anomalies and archaisms had arisen and it was recognised that this state of affairs was unacceptable‚ and‚ in consequence‚ the Judicature Acts of 1873-75 reconstituted all the higher courts. The Judicature Acts abolished the former courts and established in their place a Supreme Court of Judicature‚ the name of which was changed in 1981 to the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
The Supreme Court consists of two courts: the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal. The High Court consists of three Divisions dealing mainly with civil disputes: the Chancery Division (which took over the work of the old High Court of Chancery)‚ the Queen’s Bench Division (which incorporated the jurisdiction of the three former common law courts: the Court of King’s Bench‚ the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Exchequer) and the Probate‚ Divorce and Admiralty Division which took over the former Court of Admiralty‚ Court of Probate and Court for Divorce. This last division has itself been replaced by the Family Division which was created in 1970.
When Queen Victoria opened the Royal Courts of Justice on 4th December 1882 she was drawing a line under a long and difficult effort to achieve a home for the Supreme Court for England and Wales.
Before 1875‚ courts had been housed in Westminster Hall‚ Lincoln’s Inn and various other buildings around London and pressure had been mounting for a grand new building and in 1866 Parliament announced a competition for the design.
The eleven architects competing for the contract for the Law Courts each submitted alternative designs with the view of the possible placing of the building on the Thames Embankment. The present site was chosen only after much debate.
In 1868 it was finally decided that 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 other trades and caused a temporary stoppage of the works. In consequence‚ foreign workmen were brought in - mostly Europeans. This aroused bitter hostility on the part of the men on strike and the newcomers had to be specially protected by the police and were 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 4th of December‚ 1882. Sadly‚ Street died before the building was opened.
Parliament paid ?1‚453‚000 for the 7.5 acre site. It was reported that 4‚175 people lived in 450 houses. In two houses in Robin Hood Court 52 people had their abode‚ in Lower Serle’s Place 189 people slept in 9 houses. The site also housed the Kit Kat Club.
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 courts 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 (in round figures) are: 470 feet (approx.143 metres) from East to West; 460 feet (approx.140 metres) from north to south; 245 (approx 74 metres) feet 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 Christ; to the left and right at a lower level are figures of Solomon and Alfred; 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.
The walls and ceilings (of the older‚ original Courts) 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 the members of the Bar.