December 01 2021

Open justice: sketches of the Supreme Court

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Open justice: sketches of the Supreme Court

‘Knives aren’t allowed so I forget about trying to sharpen charcoal pencils and end up smearing my face with burnt sticks as usual,’ writes Isobel Williams, about the perils of sketching in the Supreme Court. ‘You need telescopic sights for an adequate view of the law lords. I get engrossed in the backs of wigs instead. It would be appropriate, but frowned on, to draw with tacky, lanolin-scented, yellowing sheepswool dipped in a saucer of black ink. Or, failing that, a goose-feather quill.’

Lord Phillips

  • In the spirit of ‘open justice’ – and wishful thinking –  the JusticeGap asked the Ministry of Justice for permission for Isobel Williams to sketch in court – see HERE.
  • Cameras are banned from the courts under the Criminal Justice Act 1925, section 41. The Contempt of Court Act 1981, section 9 makes it a contempt to make any sound recording of court proceedings without the court’s permission, and a contempt to broadcast any such recording.
  • You see more of Isobel’s drawings at www.izzybody.blogspot.co.uk.


‘Unfortunately there is no discretion for judges to grant permission to allow sketching within a courtroom,’ the MoJ told us. ‘Like filming or taking photos in court the legislation provides a blanket prohibition on sketching within a court.’

Isobel fared better in the Supreme Court. ‘We are not aware of any legislation that prohibits sketching in the Supreme Court,’ wrote the court’s head of comms Ben Wilson earlier this month.

Indeed, he pointed out that the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, section 47, exempted the court from the Criminal Justice Act 1925, section 41. ‘However, the Justices have jurisdiction to manage the hearing in the way they see most appropriate in the interests of justice, so there may be circumstances under which they may wish to limit or prohibit sketching – in the same way as they reserve the right to prohibit texting/tweeting etc in some instances,’ he said; asking for notice of her attendance in court and he would ask for permission of the court. ‘Naturally, if they are content for you to sketch in court, we would also ask that any sketching was conducted quietly and unobtrusively,’ he added.


Mesmerising – but not enough loos
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, writes Isobel Williams. The QC, on his feet all day before a firing-squad of five law lords, explores the accepted methods of contradiction.

Lord Walker

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.]

Court usher


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.




One response to “Open justice: sketches of the Supreme Court”

  1. […] and courts communication: in ordinary courts sketches from within the courtroom are not permitted; there is a blanket ban, just as there is for taking photos or filming.  The Supreme Court is different: there is no […]

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