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 latest visit to the Court.

Izzy 1In Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury there is an undertow of violence. The goodnight-all option.

I’m holding charcoal. That’s one thing the planet wouldn’t be short of after the bomb.

Izzy 2

Observers in the public seats

Is Bank Mellat controlled by the Iranian state and funding nuclear arms proliferation? That’s not the issue here, which is a procedural one: are directions made by the Treasury under Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 in breach of, inter alia, the rules of natural justice and/or article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and/or the procedural obligation in Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR?

It’s a rare day for forensic twitchers: nine judges are sitting, the maximum. Five is routine here.

Izzy 3

Lady Hale with judicial assistants behind her

Lady Hale is keeping counsel up to the mark. I find her interventions scarier than Lord Neuberger’s regular ‘Yup’ (surtitle: ‘We are with you, sir or madam, so please be so kind as to proceed at a brisk trot.’)

Izzy 4Counsel: ‘The judgment which I have struggled to explain…’
Lady Hale: ‘Do you mean that ironically?’
Counsel changes gear politely.

‘Why do you say it’s only a small point? It was virtually the whole submission in the Belmarsh case.’
That is changed to a short point.

‘In what sense is this legislation, i.e. lawmaking? Is it not more akin to a private Act of Parliament?…This is not an ordinary statutory instrument. I just toss that out.’

Izzy 5Izzy 7‘What would be the consequence of this being a hybrid instrument?’
Counsel will have a look at that overnight.

I have pen malfunction: I forgot to fill it. I’ve got a bottle of ink stuffed in a toilet roll – the ideal way to transport it – but I’d get thrown out if I went through all that palaver near the Supreme Court carpet.

‘My lords and lady,’ says counsel, ‘can I bring in the question of anxious scrutiny?’ Anxious scrutiny is what I’m all about here, I think.

The court has to deal with persistent bundle malfunction today. And what a bundle. ‘Looking at page 6000…’

Izzy 6

Students in the public seats

A judge mutters, ‘We can tell what the photocopier thought of this judgment anyway.’ I don’t know if he means the machine or the person (the Victorians called a typist a ‘typewriter’).

There is analysis of whether a party was, in legal terms, an unwitting or unwilling actor. I look idly around the court as I try to think of an example.


Izzy 8Izzy 9

I see Richard III carved into the oak bench next to mine, his image copied from the version in the National Portrait Gallery. Was his involvement (if any) in the death of the princes in the tower witting or unwitting? We won’t know unless rock-solid proof emerges. And are those car-park bones his beyond reasonable doubt? Leaving aside some national emotional need, would the skeleton stand up, so to speak, if subjected to the rigorous standards of this court?

I don’t think so. Sorry.

Izzy 10In the basement café I buy a hefty illustrated paperback, The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom – History, Art, Architecture – a great bargain at £10. The double portrait of The Queen (below) is in the book.

Coda: this is a report of 20 March 2013. On 21 March the court sits in secret session for part of the time.