display | more...
The placement of the Magistrate's bench at the head of the court emphasized the 'majesty of the law' to all present. It was elevated three steps to ensure that the seated Magistrate could not be dominated by the tallest person in the room. The height of the bench gave the Magistrate a clear view of the witness on his left, and the bar table directly in front of him. He sat beneath a tall wooden canopy and Royal Court of Arms, to show that his authority derived from the Crown. The distance of the Magistrate's bench from the prisoner's dock was deliberate. The court in summer was poorly ventilated, and one policeman described the prisoners as "a stinking mass of humanity." An air conditioning system was installed under the bench, and air ducts in each corner behind the bench cooled the precious, nay, celestially glowing skin of the Magistrate.

In the mid-19th century, more infamous cases usually required several legal officials at one bench. Prior to 1881, Magistrates heard cases, flanked by Justices of Peace, so the bench could be packed - thereby ensuring that certain decisions were made. After 1881, the Metropolitan Magistrates Act enabled Magistrates to hear cases alone. This increased the numbers of stipendiary Magistrates, and lessened the responsibilities of Justices of Peace, who were considered less legally competent.