Central Criminal Court
The Old Bailey
Known as the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, is one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court.
Behind its dignified façade the Old Bailey is a centre of intense activity with thousands of people entering the building on a daily basis. As well as judges, counsel, jurors, witnesses and defendants, these include the many staff needed to run the courts and the building.
The Old Bailey is opening its doors to the public for guided tours this summer. Join a City of London Guide to discover history, famous trials, unexpected artworks of the most famous court house in the world.
The public galleries
Access is free and based on a first come first served basis
- Seating cannot be reserved under any circumstances
- Groups, maximum 20 people, need to call in advance
- There is no admission for children under 14 and proof of age may be requested by security.
- Visitors who wish to watch court proceedings from the public galleries are requested to dress appropriately or entry to the court building will be refused.
- No large bags or rucksacks are allowed in the building, though handbags are acceptable. Also no electronic devices, food or drink are allowed. There are no facilities for the safekeeping of such items available at the entrance to the public galleries. Download the PDF for more details.
About the Old Bailey
The City of London Corporation owns and administers the building, as department headed by the Head of Operations. This handles security, maintenance and also deals with administration of the Shrievalty, which includes execution of writs and warrants.
Staff run the courts is headed by the Court Manager who is employed by the HMCTS. The work includes the huge and complicated task of assigning cases to courts, ensuring that there are always cases ready and waiting to be heard, with witnesses, defendants and counsel available
Now a crown court centre, it hears cases from the City of London and the Greater London area, and those remitted to it from England and Wales.
The figure of Justice standing commandingly above the streets of the City of London is an image familiar to millions, an instantly recognisable symbol from book covers, films and television news. The building she proudly crowns is almost as well-known as she is - the Central Criminal Court, universally known as the Old Bailey, the most famous criminal court in the world.
Did you know?
Crowning the court the statue of Justice stands 60 metres above the street and is 3.7 metres high, cast in bronze and covered with gold leaf. Her outstretched arms span 2.4 metres; in her right hand she holds the sword of retribution and in her left the equally balanced scales of justice. She is especially distinguished from other statues of Justice, by not being blindfolded.
Before the first courthouse was built in the 16th century, sessions were held in nearby rooms specially hired for the purpose or in Newgate, the 'notorious prison' used to house prisoners from at least the end of the 12th century.
The medieval Newgate had replaced the original Roman west gate to the City. All the courthouses have been built on the line of the Roman City wall, a section of which is still preserved in the basement of the present building.
Extremely poor conditions for prisoners and the fast spreading of many diseases, meant a new prison was needed. Completed in 1785, the Old Bailey, named after the street besides the new prison, soon became popular as the scene of hanging of those sentenced to death. The last ‘beheading’ in the country took place outside the prison in 1820.
The building was further enlarged in 1824 when a second courtroom was added. 10 years later, an Act of Parliament extended the Central Criminal Court jurisdiction beyond the City and Middlesex to include parts of Essex, Surrey and Kent and to British ships on the high seas.
The 1907 courthouse
By the end of the century, more expansion work was needed and in 1898 the Royal Institute of British Architects nominated six architects to submit plans, putting no restrictions on style but requiring impressiveness and dignity without excessive ornamentation.
The design of Edward Mountford was selected, who chose to complement the nearby dome of St Paul’s, which then dominated the City skyline.
The first stone of the new Old Bailey was laid in 1902, and five years later the building, with four courts, 90 cells and stones from the demolished prison used in its façade, was completed. It cost the City of London Corporation nearly £400,000 and was opened in 1907 by King Edward VII.
The present building
After extensive damage caused by an air-raid in 1941, the building was restored and enlarged and more courts added. Further work was carried out in the 60s and 70s – when an IRA car bomb damaged the building.
Did you know? In all the 18 courts the central chair is always reserved for the Lord Mayor, who is the Chief Justice of the City of London.
- One case has earned a commemorative plaque in the courthouse: that of Quakers William Penn and William Mead. It is a legal landmark because of the jury’s refusal to convict them, which led to the establishment of the right of juries to give a verdict according to conscience.
- Many 18th century trials became famous through the writings of the Newgate Ordinary, the prison chaplain, who published pamphlets of the lives, trials and executions of criminals.
- Among the famous trials are those of Oscar Wilde, Dr Crippen, William Joyce (‘Lord Haw Haw’), John Christie, the Krays and Peter Sutcliffe, the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’.