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Landmark building heralds new era

The year heralded a new era for the work of the District Court in Christchurch. After more than 150 years of justice being delivered from Durham Street, a new court complex officially opened on 12 September 2017.

Over the following two months court services progressively shifted into the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct. By 20 November the move across the central city to Tuam Street was complete and the first jury trial under way.

The precinct itself has attracted much media attention partly because of significant cost over-runs. But the outcome is a landmark building and a symbol of rejuvenation in the centre of a city regenerating from the 2011 earthquake.

As well as the courts, as the name suggests the precinct also houses various emergency services.

Every day about 1,100 people come to work in the precinct, and a further 900 visit in some capacity or other. This has had a positive spinoff for the neighbourhood,  with new restaurants,  cafes  and other

businesses opening in what is fast becoming a vibrant part of Christchurch.

In many ways, the new facilities are a huge step up from the old courthouse. The public areas and office spaces are light and airy, with a feeling of calm relative to the old building.

“The public areas and office spaces are light and airy, with a feeling of calm relative to the old building”

The feel of the main atrium has been likened to a modern museum rather than a courthouse. As a result, local court security officers report a drop-off in security incidents.

There are better facilities for lawyers to meet their clients, and victims have their own dedicated areas. There are quality mediation rooms for judicially-led settlement conferences. The registry staffroom is magnificent, enjoying the best views in the house, to the Port Hills and beyond. The judges’ chambers and common room are a pleasure to work and relax in.

Image of the courtyard in the Christchurch court complex.

Image of the main atrium at the Christchurch court complex.

The courtrooms themselves are equipped with the latest technology. This allows, for example, audio visual links into prisons, other courthouses, and to the rest of the world. The new technology also assists with the sharing of documents during hearings, and for hearing impaired people to participate properly.

The change from old to new has not been without controversy, and there have certainly been some teething issues. That was to be expected given the magnitude of the shift, and the strong attachments formed to the old building in which many of us had worked for decades.

Issues that arose in the early months are being worked through. While some are irresolvable, in my view, on balance the new facility is a quantum leap forward and will be a fantastic home for the District Court in Christchurch for decades to come.

 

— Judge Tom GilbertImage of Judge T Gilbert.

Image of people in a Christchurch court room.