ACT law courts $160 million revamp will ‘improve access to justice’
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay and ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Helen Murrell poured the final section of concrete to mark completion of the new court building’s roof on Wednesday.
The final product will be an environmentally sustainable, four-storey complex fronting Vernon Circle, with refurbished court rooms, updated technology and boosted capacity for juries.
Several ACT Supreme Court trials had to be shifted to Queanbeyan this year as the appointment of a fifth full-time judge to hear cases and a shortage of jury court rooms put pressure on the 1960s building.
The looming David Eastman retrial will take up a jury court room for about six months from February.
The extensive revamp of the ageing Knowles Place court complex is set to add two new jury courtrooms to the Supreme Court, increasing the total number to five.
Mr Ramsay said more court rooms and expanded facilities, including a mediation suite for dispute resolution and more space for witness support, meant residents would access justice more quickly.
“What we are able to do now with the building of this facility is not only be able to manage the demand we have at the moment, but it’s building a facility for 50 years into the future.”
He said in-court technology had already been fully upgraded in 10 Magistrates court rooms as part of phase one of the project.
“What the facilities also do have is modern technology to be able to support our jurors, to be able to support our witnesses, to be able to support people who are victims of domestic violence,” he said.
“Wi-Fi points have also been installed through the Supreme Court building, allowing practitioners and people attending court access to the internet when waiting, or for use in court.”
The external structure of the building, which will connect the Supreme Court building with Magistrates Court and Childrens’ Court with one main entry point, has been largely completed.
Building works are set to ramp up in coming weeks as construction continues on the courts’ internal features.
Mr Ramsay said Wednesday’s “topping out” ceremony was a significant milestone for the new building, and for the city’s first public-private-partnership between the government and a consortium of firms.
Stage two of the project, which is focused on the refurbishment of the existing Supreme Court heritage building, is expected to start after the new complex is complete and end late next year.
Plans for a dedicated drug and alcohol court, which have been strongly backed by Mr Ramsay and Ms Murrell, also continue.
The government set aside $400,000 in this year’s budget for a working group, led by the Supreme Court, to come up with a model for the ACT.
Mr Ramsay said further timelines for the new court, designed to focus on rehabilitation for offenders and drive down recidivism, would be decided once a model was agreed upon.