Britain’s most famous criminal courtroom, Court Number One at the Old Bailey, can seem surprisingly intimate. The decor is heavy and Edwardian, with the dock only a few feet behind the barristers’ desk and the witness box almost within touching distance of the jury – or at least that is how it seemed to me when I occasionally covered trials there. Then, when I was researching a book a few years ago, a friendly barrister showed me up onto the judges’ bench, where the perspective was very different. Their comfortably padded chairs seemed lofty and remote. You could see how, looking down to the lawyers far below and across the void to the accused, judges might be carried away by their eminence.
And not a few of them have been, it seems, as we learn in Thomas Grant’s fascinating book on some of the famous trials that have been held in Court Number One since it was rebuilt in 1907. Just about every murderer of note, from Dr Crippen