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Past influences present


Cite as: (2007) 81(7) LIJ, p. 30

The Victorian Supreme Court’s Banco Court has been restored to its former glory.

Extensive refurbishment of the Victorian Supreme Court’s Banco Court has helped recreate the features the Court boasted when it first opened in 1884.

Department of Justice and Supreme Court principal architect, Bob Sinclair, of architectural firm Billard Leece, said it had been possible to discover what the Banco Court looked like in 1884 because archives and other documents contained much written and pictorial evidence.

The design features of Queen’s Hall at Parliament House were also a guide.

Mr Sinclair, who worked with heritage architect Peter Lovell, said he was delighted with the restoration, which cost around $2.6 million.

Over the past decades work was carried out on refurbishing the Court, though much of it had not kept faith with the period in which it was built, he said.

The light into the room was obscured by blinds and outside facades, the furniture added to and changed and layers of paint added until the Banco Court resembled what many of the heritage architects described as an “ornate wedding cake” look, with many pastel colours and crimson carpet.

In fact, the original work was not paint but a polished cement finish, which cannot be replicated, so instead the Court has been painted in various shades of white. The carpet is now navy blue, similar in colour to the original blue linoleum.

Lighting, which had been added, and natural lighting, which had been lost, was a major issue for the architects, Mr Sinclair said.

The restoration has meant that light fittings faithful to the 1880s décor, including a chandelier (a replica of the original Banco Court gasolier) have been installed and windows, once boarded up or covered by blinds, have been restored and glazed.

The natural light enhances the extensive woodwork of mostly cedar, blackwood and kauri, which has been French polished. Even the media bench, which carries comments and annotations from myriad scribes over the century, has been polished but left intact to reflect the Court’s history.

Marrying heritage features and modern technology was challenging for those involved in the restoration, Mr Sinclair said.

The Banco Court had to be refurbished to allow for even more developments in courtroom technology that might take place over the next 50 years.

Contemporary additions included underfloor heating, air-conditioning, cushioned seats, state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and two large plasma screens, upgraded lighting, electronic doors and enhanced security and room acoustics.

The Court’s restoration is the first stage of works in the Melbourne Legal Precinct Masterplan.

As well as being a building of great heritage value, the Banco Court is an icon to members of the legal profession.

At the re-opening ceremony in May, which occurred as part of Law Week, Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren reminded guests that, “since 1884, most Victorian lawyers had been admitted to practice in this courtroom... and many of Australia’s greatest jurors were admitted in this very courtroom”.

The Chief Justice praised the refurbished Court as the “most magnificent courtroom in the state of Victoria”.

Her praise was a far cry from the public response to the Court, which followed the first sitting days more than 120 years ago. The Argus newspaper reported that the Banco Court’s acoustics were “defective” and the chairs uncomfortable.


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