Courts have always been a big interest of mine. Experiencing how the judicial system works and how punishments are formed is so intriguing. Earlier in the week we traveled to another courthouse in London called the Highbury Magistrates Court which is for lower level offenses and although that was quite the experience comparing their Magistrates Court to the U.S, I was so excited to go to the Old Bailey. The Old Bailey tries some of the most horrendous offenses in the UK. Judge Joseph, a longstanding judge at the Old Bailey that we got to speak to before our tour began stated “it’s the most popular court in the World,” she also mentioned that on an everyday basis the most crimes she tries are murders and went on to tell us a few of them. Courtroom number thirteen is the courtroom we got to sit in that day and what I heard that day is never what I could’ve imagined. It was horrific. I won’t go into too much detail but the UK is going through a knife epidemic, similar to the U.S’s gun epidemic and the case involved two male defendants aged 17 and 18 and the murder of an 18 year old. Although the case was a lot to handle I learned so much about their judicial system, how their trials are run and even about the UK’s culture. I even went back when the tour was over when we had free time to proceed listening to the case.
The U.S Embassy was beautiful inside and out and filled with some of the coolest, most intelligent people I have ever met. The U.S has many embassies across the World, the purpose of these embassy is to help to preserve and protect the relationship between the host country, being the UK where we were and the U.S. During our tour of the Embassy we gratefully got lectures from seven of their agencies about what each agency is responsible for and what they do on a daily basis and how they got to where they are today. Each agency was unique in their own way and they opened our eyes to some of the myths ordinary people have about secret service agents and helped us understand what they actually do on an everyday basis. The lectures consisted of agents from the Regional Security Office (RSO), Homeland Security Investigation more formally known as ICE, the FBI, the DEA, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), the IRS and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). All of these agencies were very interesting and knowledgeable and one of my favorite parts of the trip.
During one of our busy days, Dr. Brennan led us to Westminster Abbey, where we got an audio tour of the church. Aryana and I explored the Abbey together while listening to the information provided through the audio guide. The Abbey had amazing architecture and rich history. We took our time walking through the church, admiring the many burial sites. Many royals have been buried in this church, along with numerous celebrated persons. Some noteworthy royals included King Henry V and all of the Tudors minus Henry VIII. Along with royalty, there are also well-known people such as Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, and Charles Dickens. My favorite part of the Abbey was the burial site of Mary, Queen of Scots. On her tomb is a crowned Scottish lion and symbols that represent the French and English crown, as many would believe her to have been the rightful heir to all three thrones. Along with the burial sites, there were also many royal weddings that had taken place in the Abbey, including Prince William and Kate Middleton’s. Overall, Westminster Abbey was an amazing experience and I even wanted to go back for a second tour!
It’s not everyday you get a chance to tour private areas of one of London’s highest and oldest courts. Old Bailey is a historic court house where some of the highest criminal offenses are charged. Our day started off here and we were escorted to one of the back rooms where the judges gather (not available to the public). One of the judges came in and spoke to us for a little about her career as a judge and the history of the building. After this we were given a little tour before we would go sit in on a case. The building is practically split in half with a new side and the old side. We were brought into Court room #1 which is mostly used for ceremonial purposes now, and only on occasion for cases. We learned about a case at a presentation a few days later that was actually tried in Court room #1, so it was nice to be able to make that connection. We then sat in on a case (different court room). One thing I found interesting is they still practice the old tradition of wearing the white wigs during cases. At this point in the case evidence was being heard, so we actually got to see the multiple weapons that were used during the assault. After, we were brought downstairs to see old ruins from the building that are still up (also not something ever open to the public). Overall, the visit to the Old Bailey was a great learning experience and such a great privilege.
After a day at the Magistrates Court, we all went to see The Tina Turner Musical. As many already know, London is known for their theater performances, but I don’t think anyone expected a rock show to go with it. This was my first ever musical. I’ve been to high school plays, but never anything like this. This was an amazing performance with great acting, singing, dancing, and even a little concert as a finale. The storyline was very heartfelt at times, and I think every person in that audience felt the emotion being portrayed on that stage. As a bunch of young kids going who don’t really know Tina Turner’s story that well, I think I speak for all of us when I say we were shocked. Regardless of not knowing the back story as much as everyone else, I was still captured from the moment the play started until the very last line. The end of the show was practically like a little rock show. Almost everyone in that audience (even the 80 year olds) were up and dancing. The energy in the place was soaring. I loved the show, and can’t wait to attend another!
After waking up early, Austin and myself went to go get breakfast at a well known bakery, in the Belgravia section of London, called Dominique Ansel. It wasn’t until we were on the tube however, with only a few more stops to go, that we realized Buckingham Palace was the next stop and that we had just enough time to make it to see the Changing of the Guards! After very little thought, we made the spontaneous decision to go and see the historical ceremony. On our way to the palace, we we’re walking parallel with the new guards that were coming to take over in the protection of the palace. After weaving through the crowds, we were able to make it to the gates and see the guards nearly 30 yards away from us. The ceremony was amazing and definitely an item on my bucket list I was thrilled to be able to check off! After they finished, we took more picture of the palace and the monument in front of it; admiring the history and importance of the event and location we were at. In the end though, we got our priorities straight and went back on our adventure of finding food!
We’ve come to our finals moments here in England. We’ve seen so many different things, been to numerous places and heard a number of different languages. Within the area of London there various people from all over. I found it interesting how much art and the number of portraits you find around here. Everyday had been so busy that the days began to mix and time had been lost. Walking through the streets, riding the tube, taking the bus- everything started to become natural. It started to feel as if I had been here for much longer than 10 days. I’ve learned quite a lot from this trip, not only about the criminal justice system, but also the culture and the way of living in England. The people are different. The food is very different, even if it was the same place as back home in America. Though that may be the case, different was needed for this period of time. I’m glad to be going home soon, but this trip was incredible. It wouldn’t have been the same without the group of people that attended, either. If I had another opportunity to study abroad, I would definitely take it.
We’ve been here for a week, now. It has been quite the trip. Yesterday we went to the Pentonville Prison. This prison consists of male inmates, about 1,080 of them. The inner design of the prison is radial, which means there is a center area with hallways that come out from the center. To understand the format better, just look at your hand. The palm of your hand is the center of the prison where your fingers are the halls in which the cells for the inmates are located. There were 5 floors as well. Originally, the prison was created to hold about 500 inmates. It’s very old. Each door has a lock and a key is necessary to open it. This prison has been a huge influence though. Prisons from all over, like America, has a similar building layout. The inmates at Pentonville receive three meals a day, medical care, and have the ability to roam the halls where their cells are located. A large number of guards work during the day. Where at night the number decreases to about 7. It was a large prison, though very old. The tour itself was very interesting, along with the information learned. Due to security reasons, we were unable to have our phones with us, therefore we could not take a photo.
Though that may be the case, after the prison tour, we did go to Abbey Road. This is the cross walk in which The Beatles had crossed. There is an album cover with the band crossing this exact crosswalk. It was very crowded and people were running back and forth the busy street trying to capture a photo representing that same cover. It was amusing, yet very hectic.
Today, we went to the Highbury-Islington Magistrates’ Court. We had the honor of meeting two men who have been serving as magistrates for over 10 years. Their names were Tony Butler & Mark Oxemham. We learned that magistrates are people from the community who serve on a bench of three to hear cases in their community. Normally the magistrate who has been there the longest also known as the Presiding magistrate will sit in the middle. Their overall duty is to look at evidence and decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent. All cases start in magistrate courts such as this one so they hear cases about theft, terrorism, murder , domestic abuse, and much more. After learning about what they do we had the honor of listening to a few cases going on. We got to hear cases concerning thief, assault, and even verbal abuse. The procedure of the magistrates’ court allowed us to compare our justice system to theirs. Despite the differences, the main goal was to receive justice for all the victims involve. This day was very fun and enlightening. I’m so glad we had this opportunity!
After a long day of traveling and adjusting to our surroundings, Dr. Brennan took us out to dinner at Carluccio’s, where we had meals most of us had never had before. After we were all in the mood to go sight seeing and went to see Christmas lights at Trafalgar Square. There were cute stands from local vendors selling food, ornaments, and other amazing souvenirs. We then went down to go throw coins in the wishing fountain behind Nelson’s Column. I’m so happy we took the time to stop and take a group photo together, because it really tied the night together by capturing our first day in London.