For more than a decade the courthouse on Old Street, not far from London’s financial district, has lain empty. It ceased hosting trials in 1996, and plans to turn it into a centre for educating citizens about the law were later shelved.
Today, it is the birthplace of a new and still evolving form of justice.
This is the fourth site that occupy London have taken over. And it’s here that they plan to put on trial the 1%, the financial elite of society who they believe wield enormous unrepresentative power over society, but often fail to fulfil their own tax paying responsibilities.
Along with financiers, politicians and media moguls have been assigned holding cells, ahead of their trials. The occupiers want to use their new courtrooms as a tool to raise public awareness of what they see as injustices being perpetrated by corporations and the establishment at the expense of wider society.
Critics have dismissed the court occupation, along with the rest of the occupy movement, as an unproductive waste of time. These may only be mock trials, with no actual legal powers, but the whole affair is being taken seriously. Qualified lawyers will argue out the cases in front of a retired judge, and those on trial will have the right to a defence.
The timing is important. Earlier this week it was revealed that the government’s tax inspectors had failed to collect around 25 billion pounds from big businesses over the past five years, and had agreed to deals waving millions of pounds worth of tax for individual corporations, such as US investment bank Goldman Sachs.