From Court To Icon - How The Old Bailey Became The Most Famous Court In The World


Once upon a Medieval time, a king determined to curb the criminality of his subjects. Henry II criminalised all sorts of anti-social behaviour, thereby turning into criminals all sorts of people who behaved anti-socially. But those charged with crime have to be put before the courts, and Henry found he was short of these too. Prisoners had to wait their turn to be tried, and while waiting they had to be kept somewhere. The King filled the Tower of London. Then he filled every other gaol. Then he began to look for new places of incarceration. His eye fell on the New Gate, the latest of the City Gates to be built, with its smart and well-staffed guard rooms. New Gate stood at the top of a little road called Old Bailey – convenient enough, thought Henry. He filled its guard-rooms and then built more cells along the adjacent lane. And the rest is history. Within 150 years the sprawling footprint of Newgate Prison was established. It lasted for nearly 700 years. And next to it – joined by a tunnel for the prisoners to pass through, was the Central Criminal Court known across the world as The Old Bailey. How this modest building moved from its original position onto the ultimately demolished site of Newgate; how it became not just a Court but a symbol of a civilised and flourishing society, is a fascinating story. Its development parallels – indeed is part of – the rise of the City of London. It has the closest of associations with the City, its Lord Mayors and its Sheriffs. But it enforces the criminal law which applies across the whole country, and since those laws are largely now enacted in Parliament, it is a living link between Westminster and the City.


Until March 2022 Her Honour Wendy Joseph KC was a judge at the Old Bailey, sitting on criminal cases, trying mainly allegations of murder and other homicide. She read English and Law at Cambridge, was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn in 1975, became a QC in 1998 and sat as a full-time judge from 2007 to 2022. When she moved to the Old Bailey in 2012 she was the only woman amongst sixteen judges, and only the third woman ever to hold a permanent position there. She was also a Diversity and Community Relations Judge, working to promote understanding between the judiciary and many different sectors of our community, particularly those from less privileged and minority groups. She mentors young people, from a variety of backgrounds, who hope for a career in law and has a special interest in helping women.