New Zealand Law Society - Anger and relief over decision to move historic dais to museum

Anger and relief over decision to move historic dais to museum

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The decision to gift the Christchurch High Court’s historic dais and canopy to Canterbury Museum has been described as both a relief and a shameful decision.

Christchurch High Court's historic dais and canopy

The Ministry of Justice and the Museum have announced that the items will move from the Durham St courthouse to its new home once court services move into the new Justice and Emergency Services Precinct.

The President of the Canterbury-Westland Branch of the New Zealand Law Society, Craig Ruane, says the announcement “is in some ways a relief”.

“The Ministry’s view that there was no place for this historic piece of furniture in the new Court because it did not fit the design aesthetic (whatever that may mean) was very disappointing,” Mr Ruane says.

“The Ministry’s failure or refusal to recognise the historic connections has been a source of frustration for those of us in the profession who have been consulted at over the move to the new Court building.

“When it became clear that the ministry did not want to consider any proposal which would have the canopy in the new building, we looked at a number of avenues to see whether the canopy could be preserved and preferably in a legal or judicial setting.  All proved fruitless.

Craig Ruane
Craig Ruane

“One can only hope that the Canterbury Museum has the room and the resources to properly display this historic piece of furniture in surroundings which will do it justice, but it is a great pity it could not be used in its proper setting, in the main ceremonial Court in the new building.  It would have provided a connection with the history and traditions of our system of justice in the shiny new building.

“Having said all that, the efforts the ministry has made to find an alternative setting are appreciated. At least the canopy and dais will be preserved rather than be simply cast aside.”

'Shameful and disrespectful'

However, Nigel Hampton QC says it is a “shameful decision” and “disrespectful of history and heritage”.

“That 150-year history, the heritage, and context, all require the canopy and dais to be displayed in the new court complex - as I have argued for some time now and as wrote in Canterbury Tales (p3) in April.

“The argument: that such an item of courtroom furniture, of significant heritage, artistic and historical value, still well able to perform its utilitarian functions, needs must be placed in a working court both to give it context and to allow its continued use.

“It should not be placed, out of context, as a curiosity on display in the ‘artificial’ confines of a museum (if indeed it is actually put on display - one notes there does not seem to be any obligation to do that, any guarantee that that will occur).”

Significant piece of history

The Acting Director of Canterbury Museum, Jennifer Storer, says the museum is delighted to be obtaining the historic item.

“We’re pleased to have acquired this significant piece of Canterbury’s judicial history so that it can be preserved for future generations.

“The dais comes from the same era as Canterbury Museum and is a fine example of neo-Gothic furniture of the time. Objects from the 1870s of this size and quality are very rare. The dais will be a much valued item in the Museum’s collection,” she says.

The Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct is due to open sometime after 1 July 2017.

The $300 million Precinct will bring together all justice and emergency services in one purpose-built, leading-edge precinct in the centre of the city.

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