The Old Bailey

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The Old Bailey

England and Wales don't allow cameras in courtrooms, so the only way to see a trial in action is to show up. The most high-profile ones usually happen here, at any of the 16 public courtrooms of the Central Criminal Court (universally known as "the Old Bailey," a reference to the fact that it sits atop a section of the old London wall, or "bailey" in Medieval English). Oscar Wilde stood trial here for "gross indecency" (homosexuality) in 1895, but far darker souls than his have passed through these doors, including the nation's most notorious murderers, fraudsters, gangsters, and traitors. The day's proceedings are posted outside; there are security restrictions and children under 14 are not allowed. Restrained dress is expected (no sleeveless T-shirts or shorts for men, no low-cut tops or miniskirts for women) the Old Bailey was originally part of Newgate Prison, England's most feared jail after the Tower, in use from the 12th century all the way to 1902; the present building dates to 1907. Note the 12-foot gilded statue of Justice perched on top; she's not, as usually depicted, wearing a blindfold—her female form was thought by the Edwardians to imply virtue and impartiality enough.

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