Judges protest as Supreme Court turns into a nightclub

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The Independent Online

For 121 years the red-robed judges of the Royal Courts of Justice have held out against the intrusions of modern life.

But this Christmas the court's quiet solemnity has been shattered by the sound of late-night discos and thumping rock music as the court has reluctantly opened its doors to corporate entertainment. In the past month, the baroque building on the Strand has become the hottest venue in town, bringing in nearly £100,000 in desperately needed fees.

But for a number of the 150 judges who work in the court, the disruption has been at too high a price. One judge has made an official complaint about the disturbance caused by a late-night party when he was preparing for his next day in court. He was told that he would have to grin and bear it because the evening had raised £7,000.

Most events start in the early evening, after the courts have stopped sitting, and go on past midnight. But on at least three occasions court security staff have had to eject drunken guests. Lord Justice Mance, the judge responsible for the building, told an audience of lawyers recently that he had received "an objection from a member of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, to loud music".

The judge added: "He commendably said that it made it intolerable to work beyond 7.30pm in preparation for his next day's stint. I had to point out that the Royal Courts of Justice had earned £7,000 from this one evening alone."

The Treasury insists that the courts must start generating more money. The financial reality is that although the Royal Courts of Justice is expected to generate fees of £21m next year it will cost £76.5m to run - leaving a shortfall of £55m. Despite judicial protests, the new policy has been a massive success as banks and insurance companies queue up to pay the £7,000 a night for the hire of the Grade I-listed Great Hall. The society magazine Harpers & Queen has named it one of Britain's top 10 party venues.

Its strict "no riff-raff" policy has given it an exclusive status that won a booking from the producers of the Rowan Atkinson film Johnny English for their after-premiere party. Other satisfied customers include the Royal Bank of Scotland, Shell and the US Navy.

But court staff have declined a number of unsuitable bookings including one for a 1920s gangster party where guests would be carrying toy guns.

Doug Noon, the superintendent at the Royal Courts, said he had not received a direct complaint from a judge about the entertainment. But he said: "There have been occasions when people have been asked to leave because they have had too much to drink. I think that there is a dividing line between enjoying yourself and when the amount of drink is too much and they become too loud and cause problems for other people."

He added there had been no problems with drugs. Mr Noon said that it was important to remember that the court is a working building and that none of the entertainment must be allowed to compromise this.

The senior judiciary is opposed to the Treasury's policy of making the courts self-financing and wants the Government to provide additional funding to cover the shortfall.

Lord Justice Mance said in a recent speech: "At the end of the day, the Treasury must face the fact that civil justice will never pay for itself. This is particularly true of the Royal Courts of Justice.

"It is no good muddling along from year to year and crisis to crisis. We need to achieve clearly defined long-term plans for the development and improvement of our court system."