The Supreme Court - Parliament Square
Updated: May 27, 2018
The Supreme Court - the highest court of appeal in the UK.
It used to sit in the House of Parliament, where the countries top judges - the Law Lords, not only preceded over cases there, but were also members of the House of Lords.
But that’s a lot of power for one committee, so a decision was made to divide the responsibilities between those who make the laws, and those who are responsible for interpreting and adjudicating them. In 2005 the concept of the “Separation of Power” was established, and in October 2009 Queen Elizabeth II opened the Supreme Court at its new home in Middlesex Guildhall, on Parliament Square. The Law Lords became Supreme Court Judges, and no longer sat in the House of Lords.
It’s the final court of appeal for civil and criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but only civil cases from Scotland, and for cases to be heard here, they would have gone through a number of different stages in the lower courts. The subject must address a wider issue of importance to society, where the decisions will have an impact on a lot of people - including anything to assisted suicide, to is the price of car parking fair. In many cases its about creating or amending laws and bringing them up to date in the 21st century.
The Grade II listed building dates back to 1913, designed by architect James Gibson in a neo-gothic style, and stands over the remains of two previous Guildhall buildings. It’s decorated with sculptures and statues by Henry Fehr, the most impressive of these is the scenes on the frieze including King John handing the Magna Carta to the barons at Runnymede, and the Duke of Northumberland offering the crown of England to Lady Jane Grey and the granting of the charter of Westminster Abbey by Henry III. In the centre is the coat of arms of Middlesex, onto of a depiction of Hampton Court great hall. Above the main portico are intricately carved muse-like figures, believed to be Britannia with her trident and shield, alongside spirits of architecture, government, sculpture, truth, law and wisdom to name a few.
Going inside, the main feature is accessibility; as well as being able to sit in on any of the court hearings, there’s an exhibition, a cafe and regular guided tours.
In Court Room 2 you're struck by the simplicity. Everyone sits behind desks facing each other on the same level and it’s more like a discussion or a debate than one of the trials you see on the TV. That’s because it isn’t the judges job to decide whose guilty or not guilty. It’s an appeal court, so the parties come with a set of facts and basically ask what the law is. On one side sits the judges, and on the other side is the barristers, lawyers and parties they represent.
But in this room you’re immediately drawn to the beautiful logo which is the emblem of the Supreme Court symbolising the jurisdictions within the UK. It’s made up of 4 flowers; the English rose at the top, the purple thistle of Scotland , the blue flax for Northern Ireland and Wales is a little harder to spot; its the 3 leek leaves of Wales. They’re encircled by Libra, the scales of justice, and Omega, symbolising the final source of justice for the UK.
Make sure to look at the carpet throughout the building; its not hard to miss, and it is in fact the 4 flower logo again in a pop art style. It’s designed by Sir Peter Black, the guy who designed the cover of the Beatles Sergeant Pepper album. At the back you’ll notice the transparent window (there's quite a few throughout) again just reiterating how transparent this place is, etched with the words “Justice cannot be for one side alone but must be for both” a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Of course I can’t really not mention Brexit - it’s hard not to these days, but I’ll only mention it briefly. Of the 12 judges, normally 5, 7 or in rare cases 9 sit in on the cases, but in the recent Brexit case, there were 11 judges - something which has never happened, and probably never will happen ever again, it just shows how important and high profile the case was! Just a side note, that the number always has to be an odd number, so there’s never a tie.
Just to finish - this being quite an important year for women, with it being the centenary of the Votes for Women, I must mention the 2 women judges at the moment, Lady Black who joined in 2017 and Lady Hale - the first women president of the supreme court!
Make sure to go on one of their guided tours which normally run on fridays - they're a great insight into this very interesting building!