Courtroom layout in 18th century Britain/America

I was watching HBO’s ‘John Adams’ miniseries and John Adams (played but Paul Giamatii) is advocating for the British soldiers who alegedly participated in the Boston Massacre.

As an American, the arrangement of the courtroom was puzzling. Here’s my meagre attempt at a screenshot:

I think the guy on top is the Judge. The guys below him are the jury, I think. There’s two guys scribbling furiously during the scene, just behind Our Hero; I assume they’re stenographers of some sort.

I don’t get the guys flanking the Judge, though. They’re also wearing red…are they assistant judges or something? I don’t usually see persons flanking the Judge in modern American courtroom proceedings. Can anyone expand as to the function of these jurists?

There’s no standard design for courtrooms even today, and probably even less so then.

Still, as a rule of thumb:

Anyone sitting up on the bench with the judge is a judge. You’re looking at a five-judge court, here.

The people sitting below the bench but facing outwards, like the judge, may be attorneys. They could be jurors, but (a) jurors normally sit where they can see the judge, and he can see them, so he can address them, and (b) in a multi-judge court you wouldn’t normally have a jury.

What are the proceedings here? When you say that Adams is advocating for soliders accused of a massacre, are the soldiers being prosecuted? Or is this an inquest?

Adams is the defense attorney in a murder trial. He argues on behalf of the British soldiers accused of firing on civilians in the incident known as the Boston Massacre.

it was a five-judge panel; the one in the middle is presumably acting Chief Justice Benjamin Lynde Jr. This article lays out the people involved.

I believe the group of people facing the same direction as the judge is the jury. Note how it’s a mix of social classes? They ran out of veniremen (people summoned for jury service) before the Jury was fully seated, and five spectators were selected to serve, all of whom were merchants.
Same source as above, on a different page

I never saw the John Adams miniseries, but in reality, the case of the British soldiers charged after the Boston Massacre was called “Rex v Weems et al”. Various webpages that describe the trial only mention Justices Edmund Trowbridge and Peter Oliver, even though the screenshot in the OP shows four judges.

There were two trials. Preston, the captain, was tried separately and a month earlier than the lower-ranked soldiers. All what I wrote refers to Rex v. Preston… I wasn’t very clear.

The OP mentions that “Paul Giamatii) is advocating for the British soldiers” so I assumed the screenshot was showing the second trial.

I made the same mistake, referring to soldiers in the general, which made what I wrote confusing. Preston was definitely before five judges.

The Old Bailey Online website has a section about the layout of the Old Bailey courtroom in the eighteenth century. And while it certainly doesn’t follow that other courtrooms were laid out the same, the pictures of the Old Bailey are probably the visual sources most often used by set designers.

Not necessarily, at least in the eighteenth century. It depended on the type of court, the location and, sometimes, the importance of the case.

A depressing number of modern courtrooms look like a conference halls.

The Queen’s Bench in England at that period often sat in panels even for matters of original jurisdiction (the practice continues today in the divisional court). Colonial courts often followed the English practice, so it wouldn’t be unusual to have a panel with a jury as well.

They are possibly the judges’ associates.

I don’t think they had judge’s associates in colonial times.

I’m still holding out for clerks and/or attorneys. I would make no sense for the jury to sit where they couldn’t see the judge, and vice versa, given that it’s the judge’s job to direct the jury. Nor would it make sense to place the jury where an advocate who is, e.g., examining a witness would have his back to them (as the advocate in the screenshot does). The jury needs to hear what the advocate is saying, and in the days before electronic amplification the main consideration in courtroom layout was enabling the judge and the jury to see and hear all the important stuff.

(To this day in British courts solicitors still sit below the judges, and facing in the same direction as the judges, just like the people in the screenshot.)

Here’s a reference to Judges’ associates from the Statutes at large in 1730 (see 3).

In many (but by no means all) of the older courthouses in Virginia, the jury is arrayed directly in front of (and below) the judge and the witness chair sits in the center of the room facing judge and jury. (Like this).

I was told by an old county judge that it was intended to prevent the jury from seeing the judge’s reactions during trial, but my guess is that it’s actually designed to make it easy to present evidence by placing the witness, literally, “front and center” whether it’s a jury trial or a bench trial. It makes jury instructions very awkard since either the jury needs to turn around and stare directly upwards or the judge walks down to the podium (I’ve seen both done).

I don’t know if you’re able to access episodes, but Garrow’s Law was a BBC series based on real cases that were heard at the Old Bailey in London in the late 18th C.
They used a mock-of the Old Bailey and tried to make it look and feel authentic.