Perched on top of the Old Bailey court building in central London is a large gold-leaf statue - Lady Justice. In one hand she holds a sword, and in the other, the scales of justice. The statue is one of the most potent symbols of the British justice system.
The Old Bailey building has taken various forms since its inception in 1674, with the current one opening for business in 1907. Above the main entrance, carved in stone, is the inscription "defend the children of the poor and punish the wrongdoer".
Trials of major crimes in the London area, and occasionally ones that occur in other parts of the country, take place here. And as a member of the public, you have a right to watch and ensure "that justice be seen to be done".
The crimes that are tried here are occasionally horrific, often tragic. If it's a murder trial, you may find yourself close to relatives of the victim. You might see jurors become upset at images they're required to look at. Indeed, you yourself may be moved by the evidence you hear. Sitting in the public gallery may not be the most comfortable of experiences. Viewing from the public gallery does, however, provide you with insight into how the British justice system operates, and such an experience can be fascinating as well as enlightening.
Watch in awe as some of the best barristers in the land pick apart the stories of witnesses and defendants. Feel the tension of a big-news court case as those involved take the stand. This is history in the making.
The Old Bailey has played host to many major court cases over the years, including Ruth Ellis (the last woman to be hanged in the UK), Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper), and the Kray Twins (London gangsters). Unfortunately, the writ of habeas corpus isn't always a bed of roses for those that experience it – there have been a fair number of miscarriages of justice, for example, it was here that Barry George was sent down for the murder of Jill Dando, a conviction that was later quashed.
For a place in the public gallery, you should turn up on the day (opens at 10am, Mon-Fri) and take your place in the queue – reservations are not possible. The Daily Court Status list can be viewed online here. If it's a major court case that you're interested in, plan ahead by keeping an eye on the news where such cases are, of course, widely reported.
To witness a trial is a real education, and to witness the workings of one of the most famous criminal courts in the world can be absorbing, spellbinding and even tense at times. It's theatre without a script, but it's also real life where the future of real people is decided.