Christchurch QC Nigel Hampton told High Court justices it was “beyond belief” that the city was losing its great judicial canopy as the courts move to the new Justice and Emergency Services Precinct.
The spectacular Kauri woodwork was a major presence as the High Court held its ceremonial final sitting before it begins work at the new Precinct on Monday, along with the Christchurch District Court.
The woodwork was originally in the Victorian-era Supreme Court building that stood on the bank of the Avon River nearby. When the new Court House was being built in the 1980s, lawyer Tony Hearn hunted it down and found it in containers in the Ministry of Works yards in Blenheim Road.
It was restored and installed in the two-storey No 1 High Court on the fourth level of the Christchurch Court House which was opened in 1989.
“Why we are saying farewell to it now is beyond belief,” said Mr Hampton.
Justice Rachel Dunningham, one of the current High Court Judges sitting in Christchurch, spoke at the sitting and said the canopy would now become “a museum piece”.
Lawyer Craig Ruane said the eight portraits of Christchurch justices, that now hang on the walls of the No 1 High Court, would also not go to the new Precinct because they “don’t fit with the Ministry of Justice design aesthetics”.
Some of the portraits will go to the refurbished historic Dunedin Court House, and others will go to local law firms, and the University of Canterbury Law Library.
Mr Hampton described the new Precinct as “amorphous and blandly anonymous”.
He questioned the wisdom of having the police and courts in the same complex because it was “a dangerous blurring of the necessary separation of the executive on the one hand, from the judicial branch on the other”.
Christchurch would no longer have a Court House, a police station, nor a High Court – all were included in the Precinct.
He said the great wooden canopy was “the last reminder of the first Supreme Court in the city”.
“It is an insult to history and heritage to see it go,” he told the sitting.
Justice Dunningham, who has just presided over the last murder trial to be held in the Court House, told the sitting of famous trials that had been held there. “They were cases that shocked us, cases that tested the limits of what we can know with certainty when we examine evidence through the criminal trial process.”