It can be quite exciting around the heart of legal London. True, the lord chancellor no longer sits, as in Dickens’ Bleak House, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, surrounded by streets of mud and fog, lowering smoke from the chimney pots ‘making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full grown snow flakes’. But what the Victorians intensified with such fossil fuel use had consequences beyond literary atmosphere. Fast forward to our current ‘climate change emergency’, which last week brought protest movement Extinction Rebellion to the pavement outside the Royal Courts of Justice.
The protesters were treading in the footsteps of English Defence League supporters who the previous week paused outside the RCJ in their noisy march from the Old Bailey to Westminster after their idol, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (‘Tommy Robinson’), was sentenced for contempt of court. Obiter caught up with a few in a local public house, but our attempt to explain the 1981 Contempt of Court Act met with little sympathy.
Extinction Rebellion’s protest also celebrated an absent hero, the late Polly Higgins, a barrister who led a long campaign to have ecocide recognised as a crime against humanity. She was commemorated in the name of a light blue yacht parked outside the RCJ’s main entrance. No doubt RCJ architect George Edmund Street would be pleased to know how totally Twitter – and Instagram-ready his masterpiece has proved.
In Bleak House Dickens conjured the idea of ‘a megalosaurus, 40 feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill’ – logistically tricky, we admit, but perhaps an idea for Extinction Rebellion to consider next time it is in the area.