Lawyers have signalled a gentle verbal revolt so that Christchurch will continue to have a “Court House” rather than a “Justice and Emergency Services Precinct”.
As the High Court marked its ceremonial beginning in the new central city precinct, there was much talk about the separation of powers between the judicial and the executive arms of government.
The precinct houses 19 courts at one end, and the police and emergency services at the other.
The president of the Canterbury-Westland branch of the New Zealand Law Society, Craig Ruane, said he believed the two ends of the building were “sufficiently separate and distinctive to make the separation clear”.
“I will be referring to this end of the building as the Christchurch Court House in the future, and not as the precinct,” he told the hour-long ceremonial sitting presided over by the Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.
Even Dame Sian herself joined in one aspect of the gentle revolt. She said she would continue to refer to the new Court 12 – the largest trial court – as the “No 1 High Court”, a term that was officially lost with the move from the courts’ joint tower block in Durham Street before Christmas.
Lost along with the move, was the imposing woodwork of that courtroom, which had been salvaged and reinstalled in the tower block after its original placement in Christchurch’s Gothic stone Supreme Court building in 1869.
Justice William Young told the sitting that the bench and canopy in the tower block was soon to be dismantled and he believed this would reveal a brass plate behind it showing that it had originally come from the city of Nottingham.
The loss of the spectacular canopy has been repeatedly mentioned at ceremonies marking the courts’ move. It seems destined to become a museum display because it could not be placed in the new building.
Justice Young quoted another judge’s comments when he was asked about his views on the design of the new complex being “light and airy”. The judge said: “I don’t want light and airy. I want dark and scary.”
The move to the new complex as “an occasion for great celebration”, said Justice Young.
Dame Sian acknowledged there were some issues with the new building. Lawyers questioning witnesses were standing where they blocked some jurors getting a view of the witness, for instance. She was not sure how this was going to be fixed.
But she said those expressing views about the new complex “really need to get over any irritation”.
“This is a beautiful building and we are lucky to be part of it,” she said. The building was uplifting and respectful of tradition.
“The courts are housed in better facilities than they have ever had in this city.”
She said the precinct was a highly visible presence in the vibrant heart of the city. “And you can’t get a better symbol of justice than that.”