'Towel on sunbed' system shocks Da Vinci reporters

By Roger Pearson

Reporters and public waited for up to an hour to see the biggest legal show in town this week, the personal appearance in the High Court witness box of Da Vinci Code author, Dan Brown.

However, on getting into court they found themselves confronted with a virtually unheard-of scene in one of the highest courts in the land.

"Reserved" notices had been attached to a row of seats in court. It was a move which seemed to sweep away at a stroke the long courtroom seating tradition of "first come, first served".

And protests from reporters that the reserved seats in court 61 at London’s Royal Courts of Justice were empty while people queued outside, fell on unsympathetic ears. The response from court staff was they were "following orders".

One reporter ignored the reserved notices and attempted to sit in one of the seats. He was told by a court official that the seat was "reserved for Mr Brown’s bodyguard" and to get out of it.

Then the judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith, who, among other things, made news copy when he was branded "a pig and an idiot" in court by Nicholas Van Hoogstraten after he fined Van Hoogstraten £1 million for contempt of court, arrived in court.

And he made it clear he backed the new order of the day in court and if others did not, they could like it or lump it.

He said those who were not happy with what hacks were dubbing the "towel on the sunbed" seating arrangements, could leave.

He understood the interest being generated by the case and told those present that in the circumstances he had made arrangements to cope with the numbers of press and public wanting to see the case.

One reporter said later: "The judge says he made the arrangements, but none of us were consulted. We’re still wondering when he decided to adopt this system.

"Normally in cases generating a lot of media interest, a fair-handed system is adopted to ensure that the media, who have been described in the past by no less than Lord Denning as the ‘watchdogs of justice’, can if possible get into court to ensure that the general public are kept abreast of what is going on.

"I have worked at the courts for many years and consider the system adopted here to provide seating for the likes of Dan Brown’s bodyguards little short of disgraceful."

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