The Crown Court sitting at the Central Criminal Court deals with major criminal cases from within Greater London and in exceptional cases, from other parts of England and Wales. Trials at the Old Bailey, as at other courts, are open to the public; however, they are subject to stringent security procedures.
The court originated as the sessions house of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of the City of London and of Middlesex. The original medieval court was first mentioned in 1585; it was next to the older Newgate gaol, and seems to have grown out of the endowment to improve the gaol and rooms for the Sheriffs, made possible by a gift from Richard Whittington. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt in 1674, with the court open to the weather to prevent the spread of disease.
In 1734 it was refronted, enclosing the court and reducing the influence of spectators: this led to outbreaks of typhus, notably in 1750 when 60 people died, including the Lord Mayor and two judges. It was rebuilt again in 1774 and a second courtroom was added in 1824. Over 100,000 criminal trials were carried out at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1834.
In 1834, it was renamed as the Central Criminal Court and its jurisdiction extended beyond that of London and Middlesex to the whole of the English jurisdiction for trials of major cases. Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service manages the courts and administers the trials but the building itself is owned by the City of London Corporation, which finances the building, the running of it, the staff and the maintenance out of their own resources.
The court was originally intended as the site where only criminals accused of crimes committed in the City and Middlesex were tried. However, in 1856, there was public revulsion at the accusations against the doctor William Palmer that he was a poisoner and murderer. This led to fears that he could not receive a fair trial in his native Staffordshire. The Central Criminal Court Act 1856 was passed to enable his trial to be held at the Old Bailey.