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Justice precinct an exciting development

Christchurch lawyers are generally very excited about the new Christchurch Justice and Emergency Precinct and the opportunities that it will bring to the profession.

The foundations of the new $300 million precinct are being poured as I prepare this contribution for LawTalk. The foundation pour marks the first step in the actual construction of the new complex.

In just over two years’ time – the end of 2016 – justice employees and the judiciary are scheduled to move into the precinct.

It is a development that we, as a profession, have had a reasonable input into on behalf of all lawyers. I know Colin Eason, the Canterbury-Westland branch President, and Prue Robertson, the branch Vice-President have been very much at the forefront of advocating as to the requirements of lawyers. Along with them, branch Council members Marcus Elliott and Craig Ruane and the Christchurch-based Law Society librarian Julia de Friez have been working with the Ministry of Justice’s project team in relation to two spaces inside the precinct – a much wanted and needed lawyers’ lounge and the law library.

In fact, we have been advocating on behalf of lawyers, particularly in relation to the lawyers’ room and the law library since very shortly after the precinct project was first mooted when the initial plans showed neither space being provided. Others have been involved in this advocacy in the past, including myself and Justice Rachel Dunningham, when she was the Canterbury-Westland branch President. Quite what form the spaces will take is not yet set but we have been assured that space will be available.

Like many other lawyers in the city, I am looking forward to having everything in the one place, in marked contrast to the situation we have in Christchurch at the moment. Like most of the city, the courts and agencies we need to liaise with are all over the place.

As well as the facilities for the lawyers themselves, I understand the courtrooms are going to be state-of-the-art.

The 19 courtrooms will serve the High Court, District Court, Youth Court, Family Court, Environment Court and Māori Land Court.

The Youth Court will be included in a dedicated youth justice hub, which will have a separate entry from courts that work with adults. This hub will also include a range of associated youth justice services to support the daily workings of the Youth Court.

Courtroom layouts are multi-jurisdictional and multi-purpose, to provide operational and future adaptability of justice services. In fact an important feature of the new precinct generally is that the Ministry of Justice appears to have future proofed it.

Another aspect of the development that will benefit lawyers is that it will bring together under one roof Justice, Corrections, Police and associated services. This will be of particular benefit to lawyers working in the criminal area.

The judiciary will also be housed in the precinct. As I understand it, this will be done in a way that recognises and ensures its constitutional independence.

At the moment, many lawyers are waiting at least until the precinct is well under way before making what is the big commitment of coming back into the city. They will be seeking space near the precinct, particularly if they are barristers, and as a result that end of town will be revitalised again.

The new Justice and Emergency Precinct will comprise three buildings: a justice building, an emergency services building and a parking building for operations vehicles.

It is an exciting time for the city and for the profession and in my view we should embrace it with both hands, but never be too timid to comment on aspects of the precinct that we believe could be improved.

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