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Chief Justice backs new court call

News

Cite as: (2004) 78(4) LIJ, p.25

A push by Law Institute president Chris Dale for a new Supreme Court building has sparked a public debate over the future of the Court.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren has called for a reconsideration of the future of the heritage-listed Supreme Court building.

Speaking in response to a Law Institute push for a new Supreme Court building, Chief Justice Warren said any means of modernising the Court should be welcomed.

She said the Court had to assess the best way of administering justice because of the Supreme Court’s position at the top of the court pyramid in Victoria.

“The Supreme Court of Victoria should be located in a building that maximises that significant role.

“All other courts operating in Melbourne are located in modern and effective buildings.

“Perhaps the time has come, as the Law Institute has identified, for reconsideration of the Supreme Court building.”

However, state Attorney-General Rob Hulls said his preference was “to retain the Court where it is”.

He said he had asked the Department of Justice to draft a “master plan” for Melbourne’s legal precinct, including the Supreme Court.

The plan would include options to modernise the current Supreme Court building.

The state government’s Courts Strategic Directions Project, which will map out the future of all Victorian courts, is expected to be released mid-year.

The Victorian Bar has also thrown its support behind keeping the current building.

The debate over whether to maintain the current building or to build a new one was sparked by Institute president Chris Dale’s column in the March 2004 LIJ (page 4).

In the column, Mr Dale said the time had come to reassess the 120-year-old building’s suitability for trial and appeals in the modern age.

He said the building, at the corner of William and Lonsdale Streets, looked like “the poor relation in the courts precinct” when compared with the new County Court and Magistrates’ Court complexes.

The County Court complex was opened in 2002, while the Magistrates’ Court building was completed in 1993. Both buildings share the same intersection as the Supreme Court. There have also been new court complexes built for the Commonwealth Law Courts and the Children’s Court in the past five years, both of which sit within two blocks of the Supreme Court.

Mr Dale said the Supreme Court building suffered from courtrooms with poor acoustics, inadequate facilities for the disabled, deficient IT facilities, poor temperature control features in courtrooms and outdated facilities for the court staff, including the judges.

He also pointed to the fact that the Court was now spread over four buildings.

In a written statement, Chief Justice Warren agreed with Mr Dale’s checklist, saying he had “correctly highlighted the problems of modern litigation in the existing Court buildings”.

Speaking after the release of Chief Justice Warren’s statement, Mr Dale said he was “very encouraged” by her comments.

He said it meant the “topic that dared not speak its name” was now firmly on the public agenda.

“I’ve raised it because I care about that Court. I want it to resume its status within the court hierarchy as the superior court of this state and I want it properly resourced.”

Jason Silverii

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