The Supreme Court – Rembrandt and part-time judges’ pensions
03 Monday Dec 2012
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 week. We will be posting more of Isobel’s work in the following weeks.
‘Have you got a knife in your bag, madam?’
The X-ray in the Supreme Court picks up the Swiss Army key fob which I forgot to leave at home.
In the public gallery, the man next to me spends most of the morning asleep. He can’t be a judge: O’Brien v Ministry of Justice is about judges’ pensions. Dermod O’Brien, a retired Crown Court Recorder whose work was counted as part-time, is alleging discrimination. The case has returned from the European Court of Justice. A recently retired immigration judge watches intently: a favourable outcome could be retrospective.
The tactful fabric of a loose black legal gown disguises the wearer’s tension. But counsel are not wearing gowns today so the view from the public seats is about tautness in the back. And about how a properly constructed lining and interlining make the garment move with the body.
Towards the end of the morning, law students file in. They are of the generation which says ‘awesome’ a lot. Why do so many of the people in the public seats exhibit something like awe? Do people not go to cathedrals any more? Or is it panic – in the original meaning of the word, sensing the presence of the god Pan, or rather the presence of an inexorable justice system? An implacable god requiring sacrifice if people get some code of living wrong?
A few of the girl students flick and preen but attention is not on them: it’s on the clock, as it has been all morning. The students have decades before them. Counsel has two minutes left to bang in his remaining points, like nails.
The judges’ quarters are a mystery but the legal teams eat in the same basement café as the public. Postcards are on sale at the till. I buy a team photo of the judges. Only the football is missing. It makes me think of how Rembrandt exploded the conventional group portrait
with The Night Watch.
Several storeys above the café is a spotless glass roof. So the Supreme Court is protected by something immaculate, incorruptible. The cynic will say this is fanciful, that there is an obsessive-compulsive clean-up squad or a pigeon-zapping force field. But today it is without blemish. I’m told that the glass will take a body’s weight.
And now I have to do a drawing which is going to be looked at more keenly than the others. One of the security staff has offered himself as a sitter.
I’m lonely. I haven’t got long – their shift pattern is relentless. Look, I never said I was Rembrandt. I just draw in society.
One of my sitter’s colleagues comes over to look.
‘If this was made into a poster the police would arrest you, man.’
I get my knife back