With the Houses of Parliament or the nearby St. James' Cathedral and Temple Church, The Royal Courts of Justice are often forgotten about when it comes London attractions worth visiting. But with stunning Victorian architecture, a costume exhibit – not to mention that visitors can sit in on court hearings – the Royal Courts of Justice are slowly becoming a fan-favourite among both tourists and locals alike. The courts were designed by George Edmund Street (who sadly died before the buildings were completed), and the total construction cost was a whopping £2.2 million. The courts took more than eight years to complete throughout the 1870s, which was mostly due to the fact that the building masons went on strike halfway through the construction process. Because of this, Parliament officials had to resort to hiring workers from other European countries in order to finish the project, and the courts were finally opened in an official ceremony by Queen Victoria on December 4th, 1882.
Royal Courts of Justice Highlights
With approximately 1000 rooms, 35 long corridors and 19 court rooms, the Royal Courts of Justice are known to be one of the largest courts in Europe. (The Great Central Hall alone is about 238 feet long, 48 feet wide and 80 feet high!)
Not only can visitors listen in on court cases and watch barristers with those funny-looking wigs argue with each other, they can also get a bird’s-eye view of what the British judicial system is like in a real-life court room.
Because the Royal Courts of Justice only deal with civil issues, the majority of cases involve topics such as financial or family disputes as well as asylum, libel or deportation hearings. Although some cases may be a tad on the boring side, you may get lucky and sit in on a case involving a famous name or celebrity!
There are even a ton of different popular attractions located both inside and surrounding the courts, such as the Bear Gardens, the Painted Room, the Crypt, the Great Hall and the sculpture/costume exhibit room (which is located between the two wings of the courtrooms on the second floor).
Visitors can also view the original court documents relating to the infamous Guy Fawkes case (dating all the way back to 1605), and read up on the history of famous art displayed within the Courts’ walls. Feel free to wander around the maze-like corridors to see barristers talking to clients, or marvel at the interior's architecture.
- Visitors are only allowed to sit in the final two rows of the court room, as the other rows are reserved for law reporters and barristers, as well as friends and family members of those involved in the case.
- Be sure to dress conservatively for your visit, and avoid wearing jeans, t-shirts or any revealing clothing
- Make sure you bow your head to the judge when both entering and leaving the court room.
- After passing through security, you can find out which court cases are being held in which rooms by looking at the list posted on the big wooden cabinet in the Main Hall. You can also look on the Royal Courts of Justice official website and view their “Cause List” online as well.
- Do not enter any rooms marked as “In Camera,” “In Private,” or any other rooms with clouded-out windows.