The new Supreme Court encourages visitors to the Court. Those who visit come away with a variety of impressions of the highest court in the land. In this guest post, artist Isobel Williams reflects on her visit to the Court last July. We will be posting more of Isobel’s work in the following weeks.
There was a big moth on the carpet when I looked in on the Equitable Life trial in the High Court, hoping to squeeze some entertainment value out of my ex-pension. A regular told me it stayed there for days, getting deader and deader.
No dead moth would stand a chance in the Supreme Court: this is high-maintenance five-star accommodation, with oil paintings, stained glass and carved oak public benches upholstered in bottle-green imitation leather (or is it real? I didn’t sniff it). Students, dazed tourists and self-conscious schoolchildren come and go.
Knives aren’t allowed so I forget about trying to sharpen charcoal pencils and end up smearing my face with burnt sticks as usual. You need telescopic sights for an adequate view of the law lords; I get engrossed in the backs of wigs instead.
Your drawing materials must be silent: the High Court hubbub of multiple keyboards and fidgeting isn’t present here. I keep rasping to a minimum – no extravagant sweeps across the paper, just polite little sketchy-sketchy movements. When you stand for the law lords to enter and depart, the silence is cosmic. You could be in the velvet depths of outer space. Or at prayer. As the leading QC possibly is.
The appeal, BCL Old Co Limited and others v BASF plc and others, is fiercely technical, about the timing of a dispute involving a vitamins-for-pigs cartel. The QC, on his feet all day before a firing-squad of five law lords, explores the accepted methods of contradiction. ‘With respect, not, my lord,’ is a good one.
It’s mesmerising. Lord Mance catches a famous courtroom echo when he says, ‘One might comment that the tribunal would say that.’ [Yoof please note: he's harking back to Mandy Rice-Davies. Now use a search engine as I'm tired of explaining things.]
I go to the bright white basement cafe for lunch. I eat a small plastic-packed cold pasta salad with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, and a Wispa.
In the afternoon session, a law lord uses ‘begs the question’ to mean ‘raises the question’. It used to mean ‘avoids the question’. Another distinction in the language flutters its wings feebly, like a dying moth.
On a housekeeping note, there is inadequate provision of lavatories for lawyers and public alike – what were the architects thinking? We need quantity, not fancy unisex cubicles with a Dyson hand drier inside – and adding a mirror is just asking for trouble.