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Bendigo Court redevelopment a new model for Victorian courts

Bendigo Court redevelopment a new model for Victorian courts

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice Courts 

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Central Victorian practitioners have welcomed the redevelopment of the Bendigo Law Court after more than ten years of lobbying to update the original 19th century facility.

Bendigo Law Association president Juliana Smith says the new court will dramatically change the way practitioners can operate.

"The current court buildings were built in the 1890s and while they may be beautiful they simply don't have the facilities to meet current day needs, whether it's practitioners not being able to meet with their clients in private, the acoustics, or not being able to deliver court processes in a calm, safe and secure environment," she says.

"The new building will be a great opportunity to rethink how justice is delivered, improve how matters are progressed through the court system, and impact positively on the wellbeing of users of the court."

Designed by John Wardle Architects, the five-level Bendigo Law Court Development will have nine courtrooms, two hearing rooms, two full mediation suites, full custody capability, remote witness facilities, and meeting and interview rooms for support agencies and client services.

It will service the Magistrates’ Court, Children’s Court of Victoria and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. It will also service the Supreme Court of Victoria, County Court and the Federal Circuit Court on a circuit basis, and will accommodate specialist courts for family violence, Koori, mental health assessment and referral, and drug matters.

Ms Smith says Court Services Victoria consulted extensively with the legal community on the design of the new building. "It's been a very impressive consultative process. Court Services has run many focus groups with the (Bendigo) law association and community groups including the community legal centre and Victoria Legal Aid.

"They've listened intently and been particularly interested in our experiences as day to day users of the court precinct and particularly welcomed our input around the needs of all court users along with the specialist courts for family violence, mental health assessments and drug matters."

Courts Council member and Bendigo Court redevelopment steering committee member Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Hannan says the redevelopment provided a unique opportunity to create a new multi-jurisdictional court model in Victoria.

"So rather than being in the silo of the ARC court or the silo of the drug court there is an opportunity to have elements of each of those programs integrated on a person-centric basis. To do that you need triage spaces and you need services available. And all those things are being built into the new Bendigo Court." The ability to integrate state of the art technology into the fabric of the building has also been "exciting", Judge Hannan says.

The building has been designed to sit comfortably in the landscape, she says. “It is a space that is a part of the community and that is welcoming”.

Therapeutically that should have a "profound effect", says Ms Smith. "Colour and light and design which opens out onto the environment can have a profound effect on the wellbeing and behaviour and mental health of the people in that space, both the lawyers and their clients."

Safety is also paramount in the future court, Judge Hannan says. "The design enables effective separation between parties attending court through secure entrances and separate circulation pathways for judicial and non-judicial users, vulnerable persons, persons in custody and operational staff, as well as safe waiting areas."

"It's been such a great opportunity to change how justice is delivered and impact upon outcomes so that people are not re-entering the system," says Ms Smith. "That's got to be our aim to support the community and improve outcomes."

The future court is on track for completion in December 2022 with operations to commence in early 2023.

Find out more about the Bendigo Law Court Redevelopment.


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