After an arranged shadowing experience with a lawyer pal in Durham flopped (defence barrister got Covid), I decided to take matters into my own hands and turn up at my local Crown Court.
Surprisingly, this is totally allowed. Any member of the public can just pop into a court, take a pew in the public gallery, and peep in at whatever may be happening in court rooms one through seven. It's all in the name of Transparent Justice: the idea that it's the public's right to know and be able to observe the Criminal Justice System in action, to act as a sort of very-junior gatekeeper, warding off injustice and tyranny.
Whatever the reason, it's excellent. And we should all be doing it right now.
Firstly, it's free. This shit is cheaper than the cinema and with far higher stakes. Though it is a little less adrenaline pumping than the latest Ryan Reynolds blockbuster (side note: in between court visits, everyone should also see Free Man - it's awesome).
Secondly, this is the only time you're gonna get to see courtrooms in the weird, post-lockdown shipwreck that they're currently in. I was surprised to see the jury spattered across court room 2, as new distancing policies have changed court room etiquette quite dramatically.
But even without covid, seeing the awkward juxtaposition that exists in courtrooms is well worth your time. Horsehair wigs and Lenovo laptops. Decadent marble pillars and dangling plug extensions hanging from the walls. Elaborate architectural flourishes and MDF fold out tables, creaking under the weight of tomes of English statutes.
And my absolute favourite: The clash of the pomp and decorum barristers possess, and the savage, callous way judges put them down ("any why, My Learned Friend, has this evidence not yet been procured?") I took such pleasure in watching a barrister dribble on, speaking incomprehensibly long sentences only for the judge to interrupt them with a filthy look, and series of single-word answer questions to get to the point. Brilliant.
I've just witnessed 2 hearings: a "plea and trial preparation" hearing, and a bona fide trial. You can find out what trials/hearings are happening in your local crown court (and mags, if you want to be boring) through this website. You make a free account, then click your closest crown court, and it'll tell you which trials are happening, who the defendant is, and which court room it's going to be in. The public can sit in on any trial except ones involving children.
I'm certainly going to be attending more over the rest of the summer, if nothing else, to watch fancy barristers in ridiculous wigs get verbally clobbered by a man wearing a purple curtain and an equally ridiculous wig.