Reviewed by: Eduardo Reyes
Author: Paul Cheston
Publisher: Wildy, Simmonds & Hill
ISBN: 085490039
Price: £19.99

US-born Patricia Coleman is one of the best court artists, used for more than two decades by ITN and many of the daily papers.

Taking photographs or making drawings in court are both strictly forbidden, so it is the sketches done from memory by a handful of court artists that provide anyone outside the court room with a visual sense of what unfolded within. These sketches are used by both television and newspapers, a tradition which is peculiar to Britain.

Brought together in Court Scenes they show just how well these sketches do their job. As the Evening Standard’s court reporter Paul Cheston, who provided the accompanying text for each sketch, explains, the court artist has to remember: ‘How beetled was the defendant’s brow? How much hair was sticking out from beneath the judge’s wig? Were the prosecution counsel’s eyebrows really so bushy?’ A sketch then has to be done from memory ‘against the clock’.

This lends many of Coleman’s sketches a kinetic quality that photographs would be hard pressed to match. Matthew Simmons – sentenced for the threatening behaviour that led to Eric Cantona’s ‘kung-foo kick’ – is restrained by a disorganised group of policemen, caught off-guard when Simmons went for the throat of the prosecutor. Heather Mills-McCatney coolly empties a jug of water over her ex-husband’s lawyer Fiona Shackleton. Gillian Taylforth collapses onto her neighbour as she loses a libel case brought against the Sun.

The sketches also take the reactions of players out of the constraints of a real time snapshot, often showing the facial expressions of various players in the room from different points in a long cross examination.

Cheston sat in the press box with Coleman for many cases over 20 years, and his commentary adds a lot to the appeal of Court Scenes. It’s a charming book that manages to convey a clear sense of the way in which courts and the law shape national life.