Royal Courts of Justice
The facade onto Strand
General information
Architectural styleGothic Revival
City of Westminster
Town or cityLondon
Coordinates51°30′49″N 0°06′48″W / 51.51361°N 0.11333°W / 51.51361; -0.11333
Current tenantsHM Courts & Tribunals Service
Opened1882; 142 years ago (1882)
Cost< £1 million
Technical details
MaterialPortland stone ashlar and red bricks with granite, marble and red sandstone dressings and slate and lead roofing
Floor countFive
Design and construction
Architect(s)George Edmund Street
Main contractorMessrs Bull & Sons
Other information
Public transit accessLondon Underground Temple
Official website
Listed Building – Grade I
Official nameRoyal Courts of Justice: The Law Courts, Screen Walls, Gates, Railings and Lamps
Designated5 February 1970
Reference no.1264258

The Royal Courts of Justice, commonly called the Law Courts, is a court building in Westminster which houses the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. The High Court also sits on circuit and in other major cities. Designed by George Edmund Street, who died before it was completed, it is a large grey stone edifice in the Victorian Gothic Revival style built in the 1870s and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. It is one of the largest courts in Europe. It is a Grade I listed building.[1]

It is located on Strand within the City of Westminster, near the boundary with the City of London (Temple Bar). It is surrounded by the four Inns of Court, St Clement Danes church, The Australian High Commission, King's College London and the London School of Economics. The nearest London Underground stations are Chancery Lane and Temple. The Central Criminal Court, widely known as the Old Bailey after its street, is about 12 mile (0.8 km) to the east—a Crown Court centre with no direct connection with the Royal Courts of Justice.


Courts of Justice Building Act 1865
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to supply Means towards defraying the Expenses of providing Courts of Justice and the various Offices belonging thereto; and for other Purposes.
Citation28 & 29 Vict. c. 48
Royal assent19 June 1865
Courts of Justice Concentration (Site) Act 1865
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to enable the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings to acquire a Site for the Erection and Concentration of Courts of Justice, and of the various Offices belonging to the same.
Citation28 & 29 Vict. c. 49
Royal assent19 June 1865
The Great Hall

For centuries these courts were located in Westminster Hall; however, in the 19th century, justices decided the courts needed a purpose-built structure. Much of the preparatory legal work was completed by Edwin Wilkins Field including promotion of the Courts of Justice Building Act 1865 (28 & 29 Vict. c. 48) and the Courts of Justice Concentration (Site) Act 1865 (28 & 29 Vict. c. 49). A statue of Field stands in the building.[2] Parliament paid £1,453,000 for the 6-acre (24,000 m2) site upon which 450 houses had to be demolished.[2]

The search for a design for the Law Courts was by way of a competition, a then-common approach to selecting a design and an architect. The competition ran from 1866 to 1867 and the twelve architects competing for the contract each submitted designs for the site.[3] In 1868 it was finally decided that George Edmund Street was the winner.[3] Building was started in 1873 by Messrs Bull & Sons of Southampton. Its masons led a serious strike at an early stage which threatened to extend to the other trades and caused a temporary stoppage of the works. In consequence, foreign workmen were brought in – mostly Germans. This aroused bitter hostility on the part of the men on strike, and the newcomers had to be housed and fed within the building. However, these disputes were eventually settled and the building took eight years to complete; it was officially opened by Queen Victoria on 4 December 1882.[2][4][5]

Street died before the building was opened, overcome by the work.[6] 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 court cost a further £70,000 and with decoration and furnishing the total cost for the building came to under £1 million.[2]

The building was extended to the designs of Sir Henry Tanner to create the West Green building completed in 1912.[2] The Queen's Building followed in 1968 and the Thomas More Courts were completed in January 1990.[2]

The building was used as a "Nightingale Court" for criminal trials during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021.[7]


North face of the quadrangle

The design involves a symmetrical main frontage of facing The Strand; the central section, which is stepped back, features an arched doorway leading to the Great Hall; it has a five-part window in a carved surround on the first floor and a gable containing a rose window above.[1] At the top of the gable is a sculpture of Jesus with a flèche behind.[1] There are also statues of Moses, Solomon and Alfred the Great, the four statues symbolising the pillars of English legal tradition.[8][9] There are towers containing lancet windows on either side of the central section with side wings beyond.[1] At the eastern end of the Strand frontage is a tall clock tower topped by a pyramidal roof, finial and flagpole;[1] it contains a clock and five bells (weighing a total of 8¼ tons) by Gillett, Bland & Co..[10]

Internally, courts are arranged off the Great Hall which runs north–south; there is a courtyard to the east with offices for courtroom staff arranged round the courtyard.[1] The Great Hall contains a bust of Queen Victoria by the sculptor, Alfred Gilbert.[11]

Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner has described the building as "an object lesson in free composition, with none of the symmetry of the classics, yet not undisciplined where symmetry is abandoned".[12] David Brownlee has claimed that it was influenced by the reformist political movement and the High Victorian architectural movement and has described it as a "regular mongrel affair"[13] while Turnor described it as the "last great secular building of the Gothic Revival".[14]

The Government Art Collection contains a painting by Henry Tanworth Wells depicting Queen Victoria opening the building in 1882.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Historic England. "Royal Courts of Justice: The Law Courts, Screen Walls, Gates, Railings and Lamps (1264258)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Royal Courts of Justice visitors guide". HM Courts Service. Archived from the original on 24 July 2010. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
  3. ^ a b Harper 1983, p. 96.
  4. ^ "Royal Courts of Justice". E-Architect. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  5. ^ "Main (or Great) Hall". The Victoria Web. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  6. ^ "Nosing around the Royal Courts of Justice". Chambers Student Guide 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  7. ^ Kirk, Tristan (11 January 2021). "New 'Nightingale' courts open in High Court in Covid response".
  8. ^ "Traditions of the future | Ofir Haivry". The Critic Magazine. 15 May 2023.
  9. ^ "Royal Courts of Justice | building, London, United Kingdom". Britannica.
  10. ^ Pickford, Chris, ed. (1995). Turret Clocks: Lists of Clocks from Makers' Catalogues and Publicity Materials (2nd ed.). Wadhurst, E. Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society. pp. 81–94.
  11. ^ "Bust of Queen Victoria". Victorian Web. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  12. ^ Bradley, Simon; Pevsner, Nikolaus; Schofield, John (2003). London 6: Westminster. Yale University Press. pp. 311–314. ISBN 978-0300095951.
  13. ^ Brownlee, David B. (12 July 2016). "That 'regular mongrel affair': G. G. Scott's design for the government offices". Architectural History. 28. Cambridge University Press: 159–197. doi:10.2307/1568531. JSTOR 1568531. S2CID 159612869.
  14. ^ Turnor, Reginald (1950). Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford. p. 86.
  15. ^ Wells, Henry Tanworth. "Queen Victoria Opening of the Royal Courts of Justice, 1882". Art UK. Retrieved 21 October 2020.


Further reading