Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Supremes, part 1

Sorry, couldn't resist the post title as a West Wing nut.

As ever in this country, radical change comes slowly, quietly and robed in tradition. You had to be quite interested in that sort of thing to notice the UK Supreme Court opening on October 5, despite it being the first formal division between the judiciary and the legislature since the late 14th century. But if you've walked around Parliament Square in the last couple of years, you'll have seen the most beautiful building (which Pevsner described as art nouveau Gothic - two for the price of one, then) being unearthed from a coating of air pollution and neglect.

I had heard all sorts of good things about the building - the Peter Blake carpet; the curtains by Timorous Beasties... So I took my courage in both hands and e-mailed the court from work to find out whether it was possible to visit. Within a day or so, I had an e-mail from the Librarian, inviting us over, and mailed my colleagues to see who was interested; in the end there were three parties of us, and I put myself in the second one. We had a fantastic visit last Friday - the Court rooms are beautiful and it was fascinating finding out how on earth an important legal library is built quickly using chunks of existing libraries and a minimum number of staff.

While we were there, though, we discovered that most of the building (apart from the library) is accessible to the general public, day in, day out. The Court doesn't sit on Fridays so the court rooms are wanderable-about as a tourist then, but anyone can visit the building (subject to airline-type security checks as with anywhere on Whitehall), sit at the back of the court and see proceedings, look at the architecture, visit the exhibition about the court (and watch proceedings on plasma screens) and generally see business being done.

Makes me (quietly, and in an entirely British way, you understand) extremely proud of what's been done. Not as flamboyant, or as scandalous, as many other things which have been happening recently, but possibly, potentially, more important in the long run. While the current members of the Court are Law Lords, the intention is that future appointments won't be; and six centuries of tradition will gently be severed...

(Part 2 of this post will be sorted out if it ever stops raining, and I can take some photos of the outside of the building, which is glorious. Check the links above for pictures of the inside.)


Mary deB said...

Well, I was looking for Diana Ross, but whatever.

Sounds lovely! The carpet was not at all what I was expecting... I'd love an offcut for my living room.

Daisy said...

Sounds like a fab place to visit. I loved just being able to wander all over the Scottish Parliament when we visited there.