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Case law spanning four centuries urgently removed from quake affected Law Society Library

22 November 2016

The New Zealand Law Society’s large collection of bound case law, statutes and other related law books has had to be relocated from the building situated at the High Court premises in Wellington.

When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck on 14 November, it set the fire water sprinklers off - damaging many of the law books.

Others were thrown onto the floor by the force of the earthquake causing spine damage and many were then soaked in water.

Photo of earthquake damaged book
The irony of the damage to this book has been appreciated...

They’ve since been moved onto 20 pallets and transported to a storage facility in Porirua.

The Law Society’s national law library came into existence on 31 January 2009 with the transfer of the library holdings of the Auckland, Canterbury, Otago and Wellington District Law Societies to the New Zealand Law Society.

The service includes other library collections from Otago, Whangarei, Rotorua and Tauranga as well as the three research libraries in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Librarian Robin Anderson says along with the damage to some of the books, staff have moved out of the building so engineers can investigate the integrity of the floors and ceilings at the library.

“So they’ve had to lift all of the carpet and that meant removing all of the books from where they were shelved,” he says.

The books range over four centuries.

“There’s very few from the late 18th century except the New Zealand Statutes at Large. The older books that we have from the 16th 17th and early 18th century are in the Alexander Turnbull Library and are OK,” he says.

Mr Anderson says the good news is the fire sprinklers didn’t go off throughout the entire building so many of the law books are not damaged.

Photo of books drying
Some of the books being dried. 

“The books we can’t fix will be the subject of insurance claims. It’s possible they may be replaceable so we’ll be thoroughly looking into that,” he says.

Some of the case law information will likely be found on the internet, or by purchasing copies of scanned books, and some of the material may have been reprinted.

The librarian staff will continue to go through the pallets over the next 10 days and when not at the document storage facility, they’ll be situated at the Law Society’s national office in Waring Taylor Street.

The old High Court makes a temporary comeback

Meanwhile, with the High Court in Wellington out of action because of the earthquake, the old High Court building, as a part of the Supreme Court complex, has been assessed by engineers as structurally sound and is having a comeback as a temporary courtroom.

The Ministry of Justice says some members of Judicial Office supporting the Chief Justice have their offices in the building. The courtroom had been used in the past by the High Court for admission ceremonies and some civil fixtures, and has the necessary facilities for proceedings to be recorded.

The ministry says while the Wellington High Court building is closed until further notice as structural engineers undertake further assessments, High Court services are continuing to be delivered.

The High Court registry and the probate team are working from the sixth floor of the Wellington District Court building. Members of the public and lawyers who want to file documents, or want to make face-to-face inquiries, can do so from there.  There are separate counters for High Court matters and all other contact details for the Wellington High Court remain the same.  

The ministry says different courtrooms throughout Wellington will be used for different fixtures.  

“As you can see from today's daily list, criminal matters, are being held at the Wellington District Court, which has modern facilities for defendants remanded in or held in custody, while the old High Court and Court of Appeal are being used for civil matters. The cells in the old High Court are historic and it does not have modern custodial facilities,” the ministry says.

The High Court is due to complete its last sitting for the year on 16 December.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019