Royal Courts Of Justice visitors guide
- Historical background
- The Royal Courts of Justice as a working Court
- The architecture and building of the law courts
- Extensions to the buildings
- A walk around the law courts
- Court dress of the legal profession
- Ceremonial occasions
- Who's who in Court
- The Office of Tipstaff
- Did you know that ...
The Royal Courts of Justice was opened by Queen Victoria in 1882 and became the permanent home of the Supreme Court. The history of the administration of justice in England and Wales spans many centuries. By the mid-19th century‚ a number of separate courts had come into existence at different times and to meet different needs. Many anomalies and archaisms had arisen and it was recognised that this state of affairs was unacceptable‚ and‚ in consequence‚ the Judicature Acts of 1873-75 reconstituted all the higher courts. The Judicature Acts abolished the former courts and established in their place a Supreme Court of Judicature‚ the name of which was changed in 1981 to the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
The Supreme Court consists of two courts: the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal. The High Court consists of three Divisions dealing mainly with civil disputes: the Chancery Division (which took over the work of the old High Court of Chancery)‚ the Queen’s Bench Division (which incorporated the jurisdiction of the three former common law courts: the Court of King’s Bench‚ the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Exchequer) and the Probate‚ Divorce and Admiralty Division which took over the former Court of Admiralty‚ Court of Probate and Court for Divorce. This last division has itself been replaced by the Family Division which was created in 1970.
When the proposals to establish the Supreme Court were being debated in Parliament‚ it was thought that the jurisdiction of the House of Lords as the Supreme Court of Appeal would be curtailed or even abolished altogether.� However the House of Lords still retains its power of hearing appeals from the criminal and civil courts in England including the Supreme Court (as well as certain appeals from Scotland and Northern Ireland which have separate legal systems).
Although both the Court of Appeal and High Court normally sit in the Royal Courts of Justice High Court actions are frequently heard in other centres throughout the country and the Court of Appeal occasionally sits out of London.
In 1972‚ a third branch of the Supreme Court‚ called the Crown Court‚ was created by Parliament. This replaced the old courts of Assize and Quarter Sessions and deals mainly with the more serious criminal cases. The Crown Court does not‚ however‚ sit within the Royal Courts of Justice but at a number of other permanent centres throughout England and Wales. The best known of these being the Central Criminal Court widely referred to as the Old Bailey.
The Royal Courts of Justice as a working Court
The Royal Courts of Justice is still very much a working court‚ housing both the Court of Appeal and the High Court.
The former consists of two Divisions: the Civil Division hears appeals from the High Court and from the County Courts (note that the County Court appeals go direct to the Court of Appeal); the Criminal Division hears appeals from the Crown Court.
Both Divisions may refer cases involving points of law to the House of Lords. In cases where it is clear that an important point of law is involved‚ appeals may by-pass the Court of Appeal and go direct to the House of Lords from either the High Court or the Crown Court‚ thus saving time and costs.
The High Court deals with the more important civil disputes (i.e. those in which large sums of money or other important issue are at stake). It is based at the Royal Courts of Justice‚ but may also sit at 'first tier' Crown Court centres across England and Wales. There are three divisions of the High Court:
The Queen's Bench Division deals broadly‚ with actions for damages arising from civil wrongs‚ known as "torts"‚ (e.g. injuries caused by road accidents or at work): breaches of contract (e.g. failure to complete work on time or pay money due for work done) and libel. The Court also sits to hear disputes arising from trade and commerce (the Commercial Court) and to determine questions arising from shipping disputes‚ such as collisions‚ salvage and payment for the carriage of cargoes (the Admiralty Court).
The Family Division deals with Children Act proceedings‚ wardship and adoption applications‚ divorce and ancillary relief proceedings and declarations in medical treatment cases. It also deals with non-contentious probate‚ which means cases concerned with wills where there is no dispute and‚ where no will has been made‚ the distribution of estates under the intestacy laws. The Principal Probate Registry is in London and there are a network of District and Sub Probate Registries throughout England and Wales.
The work of the Chancery Division covers a Broad spectrum: - matters between landlord and tenant and disputes concerning property. Intellectual Property‚ Patents‚ Trade Marks‚ Copyright and passing-off form an important part of the work of the Division as does Insolvency and its many aspects and also Commercial Frauds and business disputes and the management of Companies; many international. The Division is increasingly involved with financial regulatory work and Director disqualification and Professional negligence.
The Architecture and building of the law courts
When Queen Victoria opened the Royal Courts of Justice on 4th December 1882 she was drawing a line under a long and difficult effort to achieve a home for the Supreme Court for England and Wales.
Before 1875‚ courts had been housed in Westminster Hall‚ Lincoln’s Inn and various other buildings around London and pressure had been mounting for a grand new building and in 1866 Parliament announced a competition for the design.
The eleven architects competing for the contract for the Law Courts each submitted alternative designs with the view of the possible placing of the building on the Thames Embankment. The present site was chosen only after much debate.
In 1868 it was finally decided that George Edmund Street‚ R.A. was to be appointed the sole architect for the Royal Courts of Justice and it was he who designed the whole building from foundation to varied carvings and spires. Building was started in 1873 by Messrs. Bull & Sons of Southampton.
There was a serious strike of masons at an early stage which threatened to extend to other trades and caused a temporary stoppage of the works. In consequence‚ foreign workmen were brought in - mostly Europeans. This aroused bitter hostility on the part of the men on strike and the newcomers had to be specially protected by the police and were housed and fed in the building.� However‚ these disputes were eventually settled and the building took eight years to complete and was officially opened by Queen Victoria on the 4th of December‚ 1882. Sadly‚ Street died before the building was opened.
Parliament paid £1‚453‚000 for the 7.5 acre site. It was reported that 4‚175 people lived in 450 houses. In two houses in Robin Hood Court 52 people had their abode‚ in Lower Serle’s Place 189 people slept in 9 houses. The site also housed the Kit Kat Club.
The building was paid for by cash accumulated in court from the estates of the intestate to the sum of £700‚000. Oak work and fittings in the courts cost a further £70‚000 and with decoration and furnishing the total cost for the building came to under a million pounds.
The dimensions of the building (in round figures) are: 470 feet (approx 143 metres) from East to West; 460 feet (approx 140 metres) from north to south; 245 (approx 74 metres) feet from the Strand level to the tip of the fleche.
Entering through the main gates in the Strand one passes under two elaborately carved porches fitted with iron gates. The carving over the outer porch consists of heads of the most eminent Judges and Lawyers. Over the highest point of the upper arch is a figure of Jesus Christ; to the left and right at a lower level are figures of Solomon and Alfred; that of Moses is at the northern front of the building. Also at the northern front‚ over the Judges entrance are a stone cat and dog representing fighting litigants in court.
The walls and ceilings (of the older‚ original Courts) are panelled in oak which in many cases is elaborately carved. In Court 4‚ the Lord Chief Justice’s court‚ there is an elaborately carved wooden royal Coat of Arms. Each court has an interior unique to itself; they were each designed by different architects.
There are‚ in addition to the Waiting Rooms‚ several Arbitration and Consultation Chambers together with Robing Rooms for the members of the Bar.
Extensions to the buildings
The first extension was the West Green building for which plans were drawn up in 1910 and this was to house extra divorce courts. Designed by Sir Henry Tanner‚ it was opened in 1912. The design follows that of the Main Building. The statue on the gable end overlooking the West Green Car Park is that of Henry II who reformed the law in the 12th century to good and lasting effect. The four new courts housed the new court of criminal appeal. This division was created earlier in the century. It’s predecessor was known as "Court of Criminal Cases Reserved." The courts however were soon to be used by the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division‚ nicknamed "Wills‚ Wives & Wrecks." These courts were the first to enjoy modern air conditioning and tape recording of proceedings in their original design.
The next new building was the Queen’s Building opened in 1968 providing a further twelve courts. This building also contains cells in the basement.
With an ever increasing workload the eleven storey Thomas More Building was built to house the Bankruptcy and Companies Courts and yet more offices. A grand view can be had from the top looking over to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Central Criminal Courts in the City of London.
Finally‚ it was necessary to build an additional twelve courts for the Chancery Division named the Thomas More Courts which opened in January 1990.� All this has meant there is little room left for further extension on the site should it be necessary in the future. However‚ an extensive refurbishment of the East Block took place during 1994-95 which provided 14 extra courts for the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal and 2 extra large courts which are unassigned and will be used for cases where there are several parties involved or there are an unusually large amount of documents and books.
It should also be remembered that there are further courts at St. Dunstan’s House and Chichester Rents which come under the wing of the Law Courts and are within short walking distance.
StatuesGreat Hall - George Edmund Street
- Memorial to G. E. Street‚ Architect of the Royal Courts of Justice.
Sculpted by Henry Armstead RA. Designed by Arthur Blomfield who with Street’s son Arthur‚ completed the unfinished architectural commissions due to G. E. Street’s untimely death.
- Lord Russell of Killowen (1832 - 1900)
First Roman catholic to be appointed Lord Chief Justice since the reformation.
- Sir William Blackstone (1723 - 89)
Judge of the Court of Common pleas. The book shown in the statue is entitled "Some commentaries on the Laws of England." This book had a significant impact on the Law in the country and indeed other countries around the world. This statue was presented to the English Bar by the American Bar Association in 1926.
- Edwin Wilkins Field (1804 - 71)
Situated on the landing near the Exhibition of Court Dress. Field was a hard working‚ well respected solicitor of his day. The inscription on the plinth ends with the words "He died nobly in the act of saving life." He and two colleagues were in a boat on the Thames when it capsized. Field‚ with the help of one of his companions went to the aid of the third person who was a non-swimmer. He was saved‚ Field and his fellow rescuer were drowned‚ despite both men being strong swimmers.
- Lord Taylor (1930 - 1997)
This is a bust of the Lord Chief Justice from 1992-96‚ a much respected Judge. The sculptor is Michael Rizzello OBE.
A Walk around the law courts
Start at the Souvenir Shop and walk through the security arch. On the left is a statue of George Street R.A. working on his plans. Continue straight ahead and go through the final arch on the left. Here you will find a costume display showing the different robes worn by judges. Follow the display round and at the end of the showcases go up the spiral staircases signposted "Bear Garden" and East Block.
At the top of the stairs‚ turn left then left again and up a few steps. Go straight ahead passing on the left a lift. Continue straight ahead and go through the door at the end on the left to enter adjourning rooms known as the Bear Garden. These two large rooms were originally robing rooms and retain their original decor. Note the fireplaces and panelled ceilings and the wallpaper with four crests depicting the Inns of Court. The windows on the left of this room look out onto a courtyard known as the Quadrangle. These rooms are essentially waiting areas for applications to be heard by "The Interim Applications Judge" - previously called Judge in Chambers or Master in Chambers. The former deals with applications for injunctions‚ e.g. to prevent industrial action or to stop a book being published. The Masters deal with applications to settle certain matters before the trial. There is a story that suggests that these rooms became known as the Bear Garden because much arguing takes place here. Much litigation is settled outside the judge and master’s chambers and the amount of noise and its pitch has made people liken the atmosphere to that a bear baiting competition.
Walk through both of these rooms and go through the swing doors in the far right hand corner‚ turn left and go down one flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs turn right and go through the doors. The corridor to your right leads down to the Action Department. This is where cases are commenced in the Queen’s Bench Division. You cannot gain access to the rest of the building by going down this corridor‚ therefore continue to walk on‚ down the stairs and through the door leading out of the building. You are now in the Quadrangle‚ on your left is a gate that leads out to the Strand.
Turn right and walk across the Quadrangle. At the far side you will see steps leading back into the building. Before going up these steps look up to about first floor level and you will see two busts. One is of George Edmund Street R.A.‚ the architect of the Royal Courts of Justice with his plans in hand. The other is of Henry Bull the builder with his trowel. Go to the top of the steps and turn right‚ this will lead you to the East Block. This section of the building has been renovated to provide 14 new courts which came into use in April‚ 1994. Return from East Block along the same corridor and back down the steps into the Quadrangle.
Facing the Quadrangle‚ turn immediately right and go up the stairs again. Go through two sets of swing doors straight ahead to enter a walkway with tessellated flooring and complex Gothic ceiling. Carry on straight ahead and you will come to the Coffee Shop on your right and the Main Hall on your left. (The Coffee Shop is open from 9.00 am until 3.30 pm or 3.00 pm during legal vacations). Facing the Main Hall you will see two ornately carved pillars on the left. These are the work of the foreign workmen who were brought in when there was an industrial dispute during construction. They managed to carve these pillars in their spare time before it was realised this was not in the plans and they were told to stop.
Walk towards the Main Hall then down the steps and stop before going through the arch. In the centre of the two arches you will see a column that does not extend to the ground. This column was omitted during building because George Street (who was a very religious man and principally a church architect) believed only Jesus Christ could create a perfect building and so left this as a mark of respect. Turn right and go up the stairway signposted "First floor Courts 11-19". At the top is a fine view of the Main Hall. The dimensions of the Main Hall (also known as the Great Hall) are 238 feet long‚ 48 feet wide and 80 feet high. The mosaic floor was not laid in blocks but individually‚ Street had intended that the mosaic should continue up the window sills but after his death no one was willing to press Parliament for the money to do so.� The windows contain the coats of arms of the past Lord Chancellors and keepers of the Great Seal. Behind you is a further more extensive display of robes‚ together with items relating to the ceremony of the Quit Rents. Return down the stairs and go into the hall. Located on the left through the first archway are the main cells where the prisoners are held. Behind you on the left is a bust of Queen Victoria who opened the buildings. Behind you on the right is a statue of Lord Russell‚ the first Catholic judge to be appointed after the Reformation. The first two portraits facing each other across the hall are of the judges who settled the land disputes after the Great Fire of London in 1666. They are commonly known as the "Fire Judges".
The next two paintings on the left are of former Masters of the Rolls and below this is a statue of William Blackstone a famous writer and lecturer of law in the mid 1700’s. On the right there is a portrait of a former Lord Chief Baron and next to it is the portrait of the Attorney General who drafted the great Reform Bill that became law in 1832.
Further down on the left again is a picture of the scene as Queen Victoria opened the Law Courts. Opposite this on the right are paintings of Lord Chancellor Hatherly’s procession in the House of Lords and of Judges of the Court for Crown Cases Reserved which was the forerunner of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division).
In the middle of the Main Hall is a cabinet containing a list of all cases to be heard today. This is called the Daily Cause List and shows the time the case begins‚ which court it will be in and the judge that will be hearing the case. On either side of the cabinet are stairs that lead to the main court corridor. Go up the stairs that are to your left as you face the main doors. Along the corridor at the top are courts 3-9. These are particularly good examples of the original courts. If you have the time you may like to go and sit in the court and listen to a case. Most of the courts are open to the public‚ and you may sit on the back two rows of the court.� Please be as quiet as possible when entering and leaving the court. If you see a note on the door that says "Private No Admittance" then you will not be allowed in‚ only the parties to the action and their lawyers will be allowed in the court in this case.
When leaving the building through the main gates in the Strand you will pass under two elaborately carved porches fitted with iron gates. The carving over the outer porch consists of the most eminent judges and lawyers. Over the highest point of the upper arch is a figure of the Saviour; to the left and right and at a lower level are figures of Solomon and Alfred.
At the rear entrance of the building there is a figure of Moses‚ also over the judge’s entrance are a stone cat and dog representing fighting litigants in court.
Court dress of the legal profession
Robes are the garments enabling us to distinguish between the Bench and the Bar. Queen’s Bench judges have five sets of robes‚ Chancery judges have one set of scarlet and ermine and one of black silk.
Other items worn include a scarf‚ a mantle‚ a hood‚ Black Cap‚ a tippet‚ white gloves‚ knee breeches and steel buckled shoes. Most of these though‚ are only worn on ceremonial occasions.
Queen’s Bench judges wear black robes with a scarlet tippet across one shoulder when trying civil cases and scarlet robes trimmed with ermine on "red letter" days i.e.‚ when trying crime‚ or at the State Opening of Parliament and the Courts.
Queen’s Counsel are known as "silks" because their black gowns are made of silk as opposed to junior counsel’s alpaca or "stuff". The QC also has a square cut collar and the junior a round collared gown. QC’s wear a full bottomed wig on ceremonial occasions and have to provide themselves with a Court dress‚ a jacket with no lapels and ornamented with horizontal braids and a waistcoat.
When the Court is in mourning‚ QC’s wear "weepers" (white gauze cuffs) outside the jacket sleeves and a "staff" gown.
Juniors have to provide themselves with a wig‚ neckband‚ gown and blue brief bag‚ which‚ by custom is exchanged for a red brief bag from his senior when he has done particularly well in preparing a case.
The Wig has been part of the Law’s standard dress for 300 years.
Originally they were made from human hair and cost fifty guineas - the wages of a housemaid for several years.
They were heavy and needed constant applications of pomade‚ a scented ointment‚ to give the ringlets and curls consistency. The wearer had frequent recourse to the periwig maker. A tax on hair powder‚ used to cover the pomade‚ added to the expense.
In 1834 Humphrey Ravenscroft patented the idea on which the modern wig is based. It uses hair from the manes of horses - still claimed to be far superior for the purpose than any modern man-made fibre. The curls are securely tied. They do not become uncurled and the tails do not require tying when dressing. The wearer is independent of the "hairdresser" and his wig can be slung into his bag without damage and could last 100 years.
They are so light that only on the hottest days are the judges tempted to put aside their own and invite counsel to do the same.
Humphrey Ravenscroft‚ who brought about this revolution‚ was the grandson of Thomas Ravenscroft‚ with a family tree going back to the year 809 and a shop in Searle Street much patronised by the gentry.
Today the business‚ now Ede and Ravenscroft‚ is carried on in Chancery Lane‚ a few minutes’ walk from the Royal Courts. After 285 years in the trade they are the world’s largest makers of lawyers’ wigs. In 1971‚ with appointments pending for the new Crown Courts‚ they made a record 700.
There are three basic types. The full-bottomed wig is worn on ceremonial occasions and confined to the Lord Chancellor‚ the Speaker of the House of Commons‚ High Court judges and Masters‚ Q.Cs‚ the Official Solicitor and Bankruptcy Court registrars.
For normal court sitting judges wear the "working" wig‚ called the FrizTye‚ which has a closely woven appearance in comparison with the wig worn by barristers and court officials.
Women judges and women barristers wear the same wigs as the men. But fifty years ago there was controversy whether the first women to be called to the Bar should be allowed to wear wigs at all. Some judges felt the wig was male attire and if the women were allowed to wear wigs they might as well be allowed to wear trousers. Finally the judges voted 9-2 to take the risk.
The Lord Mayor’s Show
On the second Saturday of November each year the new Lord Mayor of London rides in his golden coach from Guildhall to the Royal Courts of Justice.
It is the occasion of the swearing in of the Lord Mayor before the Lord Chief Justice of England and follows a tradition dating back 800 years.
The first Lord Mayor’s Show was held in 1215 and the first by water in 1453. In 1711 the Lord Mayor was thrown from his horse and ever since then has ridden in a coach. It is drawn by six fine grey brewery dray horses traditionally provided by Whitbread’s together with their handlers. He is escorted by the pikemen of the Honourable Artillery Company‚ a Sovereign’s Escort of Household Cavalry and detachments from all the services.
The occasion is celebrated with a carnival and the Lord Mayor follows a procession of a dozen bands and many gaily decorated floats representing the arts and industry. It is a very colourful occasion attracting great numbers of sightseers and is part of many a Londoner’s childhood.
When the procession reaches the Royal Courts of Justice the Lord Mayor enters the building and is led by the Tipstaff to the Lord Chief Justice’s Court. �There‚ he pledges his loyalty to the Crown and to the duties of his office.
The Quit Rents Ceremony
The annual Ceremony of the Rendering of the Quit Rents by the Corporation of London to the Queen’s Remembrancer on behalf of the Crown is an ancient‚ time-honoured and traditional Ceremony which may be the oldest surviving ceremony next to that of the Coronation itself. It is feudal in origin and character‚ since it represents the rendering of rents and services in respect of the tenure of two pieces of land‚ one being a piece of waste land called 'The Moors’ near Bridgenorth in Shropshire and the other being a Tenement called 'The Forge’ in the Parish of St Clement Dane‚ probably on land now occupied by Australia House‚ in the County of Middlesex. The services rendered by the original tenants of these pieces of land having been commuted by the Sovereign‚ the rents are only a token payment in kind. This is why they are called Quit Rents and Services‚ since thereby the tenant goes 'quit’ and free of all other services.
In respect of 'The Moors’‚ the Quit Rent consists in the presentation of a blunt knife and a sharp knife. The qualities of these instruments are demonstrated by the Comptroller and Solicitor of the City of London‚ who will bend a hazel rod of a cubits’ length (one year’s growth) over the blunt knife and break it over the blade of the sharp knife. Hazel rods of this length were used as tallies to record payments made to the Court of Exchequer by notches made with a sharp knife along their length and after the last payment split length-ways with a blunt and pliable bladed knife‚ one half being given to the payer as his receipt and the other half being retained by the Court to vouch its written records‚ his Quit Rent has been rendered for over 750 years‚ the earliest recorded notice being in the Shropshire Sergeantries in 1211 during the reign of King John.
The Quit Rent in respect of the Tenement called 'The Forge’ consists of six horseshoes and sixty-one nails which the Comptroller and City Solicitor counts to demonstrate that the numbers are correct before rendering them to the Queen’s Remembrancer on behalf of Her Majesty. The shoes are over 9 inches wide. This Quit Rent has been rendered for over 700 years‚ the grant of the Forge having been made by Henry III and being entered in the Great Roll of the Exchequer in 1235. The six horseshoes and the sixty-one nails are themselves over 550 years old‚ since after being rendered to the Queen’s Remembrancer they are preserved in his Office and with the permission of the Crown‚ they are loaned to the Corporation of London to be rendered again the following year.
These ceremonies were formerly performed before a Baron of the Court of Exchequer. When that Court was abolished‚ the Queen’s Remembrancer took the place of the Baron (Judge) of the Court and to signify the connection with the old Court of Exchequer he wears‚ on top of his full-bottomed wig‚ the tricorn hat of a Baron and the chequered cloth of the Court is spread out before him.�The Ceremony is nowadays combined with the presentation of the new Sheriffs of the Corporation of London to the Queen’s Remembrancer.
The Lord Chancellor’s Breakfast
This ceremony is held on the first working day of October each year. A church service is held in Westminster Abbey followed by a reception hosted by the Lord Chancellor at the House of Lords known as the Lord Chancellor’s Breakfast. In latter years there was a procession of judges in their ceremonial dress into the Great Hall of the Law Courts to begin the new legal year‚ this has now been discontinued.
Who’s who in courtSitting in court you will be facing the judge who sits on a dais known as the Bench. Above the judge is the Royal Coat of Arms‚ a symbol of his authority. Below him is the clerk of the court known as the judge’s associate.
The associate is responsible for court documents‚ notings and later writing out the judges decision. He is also responsible for controlling the tape recording equipment. If a shorthand writer is available he will be sitting beside the associate.
Most courts have a jury box but jury trials of civil actions are very rare‚ usually being restricted to libel and slander suits. There is also a press box for reporters and journalists.
In an appeal court there will usually be two or three judges sitting together‚ the most senior sitting in the centre and the most junior on their left.
There are always two rows for counsel and in civil trials (and some criminal trials) the Queen’s Counsel occupy the front row and junior counsel the second row. Solicitors sit at the table in front of these rows‚ if a QC has been instructed‚ otherwise they sit behind junior counsel.
A Queen’s Counsel can be recognised by the square cut collar of his silk gown and is nearly always accompanied by a junior barrister.
Finally there are the ushers. They are responsible for retrieving law books for use in court‚ bringing in the judge‚ swearing in witnesses and taking names of legal representatives and witnesses for the judge and associate.
The Office of TipstaffThe office of the Tipstaff is thought to have been created in the 14th century. One of the earliest records of Tipstaffs was mentioned in 1570. "The Knight Marshall with all hys tippe staues". It is a position of both law enforcement and ceremonial duties.
The name originates from the early law enforcement officers who would apprehend the person intended for arrest by enforcing‚ if necessary‚ their duty with a tipped staff. The staff was made of wood or metal or both‚ topped with a crown. The crown‚ which unscrewed‚ was removed to reveal a warrant of arrest inside the hollow staff. Some staffs were definitely a means of protection and this is where the present day policeman’s truncheon originates. The Tipstaff is the only person authorised to make an arrest within the precincts of the Royal Courts of Justice.
The staff is now only used on ceremonial occasions. It is some 12 inches in length and made of ebony decorated with a silver crown and three bands of silver engraved with‚ at the top‚ the Royal Arms‚ around the middle is inscribed "Amos Hawkins‚ Tipstaff Courts of Chancery" and around the bottom is inscribed "Appointed 14th January‚ 1884‚ by the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Selborne‚ L.C." and another coat of Royal Arms. (The 14.1.1884 being the date this staff was first used‚ soon after the Law Courts were opened). Prior to this‚ each Tipstaff had his own staff which he retained when he retired.
There is only one Tipstaff and three assistants. He can call on any constable or bailiff or indeed member of the public to assist in carrying out his duties if need be and his jurisdiction extends throughout England and Wales. He is authorised to make an enforced entry if necessary and will have a uniformed police officer standing by to make sure there is no breach of the peace. As a matter of courtesy the local police office will be informed of any arrest.
Sometimes the local bailiff or police will detain a person in custody until the Tipstaff arrives to collect him and take him to court or some other place of confinement. Pentonville Prison (for civil offenders) is obliged to take into custody‚ no matter the situation‚ any persons so taken there by the Tipstaff.
The Tipstaff heads the Lord Chancellor and judges in a procession at the start of the new legal year‚ preceding them with his staff as a symbol of authority and law enforcement. He also leads the Lord Mayor from his golden coach to the Lord Chief Justice’s Court for the "swearing in" of the Lord Mayor‚ afterwards attending the Lord Mayor’s Banquet having led the Lord Chancellor into the Guildhall. The black uniform‚ only worn on ceremonial occasions‚ is based on that of a Victorian police inspector. He wears a black hat with gold braid trimmings and jacket with silver buttons‚ a wing collar with a white bow tie and white gloves.
A former Tipstaff was once requested to arrest an Arab gentleman under a writ of ne exeat regno (no exit from this jurisdiction) unless he could provide a security of �45‚000‚000. The Tipstaff only accepts a banker’s draft or cash. The gentleman was arrested!
Every applicable order made in the High Court is addressed to the Tipstaff i.e. "I hereby command you the Tipstaff and your assistants in Her Majesty’s name to take and safely convey and deliver the said .. to the Governor of Her Majesty’s Prison .." - as in the case of making an arrest. The majority of his work though‚ involves taking children into custody‚ including cases of child abduction abroad.
Did you know that ...
- There are in excess of 150 Judges‚ Registrars and Masters in the Royal Courts of Justice.
- Two statues (amongst other things) were omitted from the roof during building due to lack of funds.
- There is a secret corridor known as the Chicken Run.
- There are over 1‚000 rooms and‚ in the main building alone‚ there are three and a half miles of corridors.
- A transcript of one day’s hearing in the High Court contains about 35‚000 words - roughly half the length of a novel.
- A man was once found living in the basement.
- A tributary of the River Fleet is reputed to run under the buildings.
- There used to be a blacksmith’s forge in the Law Courts.
- In 1908 it was necessary to provide cells for appellants. It was not until 20 years later that an unfastened trapdoor under the linoleum was discovered just outside the cells where a prisoner could have dropped into a tunnel‚ through the engineering shop and out into the Strand!
- The Thomas More building leans towards the west.
- The Admiralty Marshal once arrested a motor cruiser in the Boat Show pool at Earls Court.