Hidden justice

21 Feb

If justice is supposed to be seen to be done, Woolwich Crown Court has been built to make that as difficult as possible. The only place it’s convenient for is Belmarsh Prison  next door, to which it’s directly connected by a a tunnel, and HMP Thameside, a new, privatised prison run by SERCO, next door but one.

Beyond those unhappy neighbours is bleak emptiness. A dual carriageway runs past the high fence and rubbish-strewn thorny shrubs. The cycle track alongside it is deserted, apart from a few straggling pedestrians making the 20-minute walk from Plumstead station through a threatening windswept industrial wasteland scattered with bottles, beer cans and plastic bags.

I’d never been to Woolwich Crown Court before yesterday, when I went to support Alfie and Zak. I’d only been to courts in the centre of London, which are grand old buildings, designed to overawe; a theatrical backdrop for the drama of a trial.  This court is sterile and impersonal. Long, blank corridors lead to waiting areas blasted with air conditioning, even in winter.  In this bland setting, the judge and barristers seem embarrassed by their wigs and gowns.

Hidden from sight and hard to reach, this court has no gravity, just cold, characterless buildings, making it almost impossible for family and friends to support defendants and sabotaging the principle of open justice.

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