The prospect confronting a courtroom artist is not that aesthetically pleasing: plastic water jugs, computers, suits, a far-away view of the subject – and you’re not even allowed to draw in court, thanks to section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, writes Isobel Williams.
Official pictures are produced by a handful of artists with a highly developed memory: they take notes in court, hop it and draw like mad to a tight deadline.
The Queen’s speech included a plan to allow limited televising of courtrooms as part of the move towards open justice. Television cameras would presumably bring permission to sketch at last – so what would it be like?
In the spirit of ‘open justice’ – and wishful thinking – the JusticeGap asked the Ministry of Justice to allow me to sketch in court. The Ministry of Justice said: ‘Unfortunately there is no discretion for judges to grant permission to allow sketching within a courtroom. Like filming or taking photos in court the legislation provides a blanket prohibition on sketching within a court.’
- To find out more about open justice, see HERE.
My blog is subtitled ‘Drawing from an uncomfortable position’: the Leveson Inquiry fits the bill. And as it’s an inquiry, not a courtroom, the Criminal Justice Act doesn’t apply.
Anyhow, here is my account of June 25th 2012:
When grandees such as Tony Blair were on, people queued from 4am to get into the public gallery. Today there’s no queue to speak of.
‘Who’s on?’ I ask.
‘Just journalists. And Jon Snow.’
‘What was the best day at the inquiry?’ I ask Jeremy, a cameraman.
There’s chitchat among the tricoteuses in the public gallery:
‘If she’s charged…’
‘Can’t stand that woman.’
‘She came in and looked several people straight in the eye.’
‘Jay [Robert Jay QC, lead barrister to the Inquiry] has reputedly earned half a million pounds for this. He’s worth it. It’s public money. My money.’
‘I wanted to say to Jay, why don’t you really attack Blair?’
‘Because Blair’s got a legal background, that’s why.’
‘I need a small child to gnaw. I’m starving.’
My optician says I’m top gun standard. And today I need it because I’m a long way from my targets across Courtroom 73. I can’t see what I’m drawing.
I’m messing around with a portable, court-friendly but inadequate drawing kit and reduced to sharpening pencils into my pencil case.
‘Will the court rise,’ says the clerk, and a mouse’s nest of pencil shavings falls on the floor. Sorry.
Now for a bit of glamour. The harsh fluorescent light bounces off Jon Snow’s cheekbones. They are as defined as scimitars. No wonder he’s on the telly.
‘ “What is truth, said Pontius Pilate”,’ says Jon Snow, almost quoting Francis Bacon.
‘Jesting,’ growl two pedants in the public seats, one of them me.
We can hear a helicopter and seagulls.