The Ministry of Justice can give no commitment court
services will return to the historic part of the Dunedin
Asked under the Official Information Act whether the closed
parts of the building would be used again for court business,
general manager for district courts Tony Fisher said the
ministry was still considering options for strengthening
"Until these are assessed, I cannot answer this question."
The Otago branch of the New Zealand Law Society says if the
building were to close permanently, the branch would be
"deeply saddened" by the loss of its place of practice for
more than 100 years.
"Our history is inextricably intertwined with its footprint,"
branch president Associate Prof Donna Buckingham said.
The branch would not take an official position until it knew
the outcome of technical reports and expert advice to the
ministry on strengthening the building, she said.
Part of the bluestone courthouse was closed after a December
2011 engineer's report found the tower was at high risk of
falling in an earthquake.
Family and civil court proceedings were relocated to another
central Dunedin building, while Dunedin jury trials have been
held in Invercargill for the past year and will not return to
Dunedin until mid-2013, when the fit-out of a further
building is completed.
Prof Buckingham said the closure had been difficult on
everyone, not just the lawyers involved.
For those involved in criminal litigation, in particular, it
had been "extremely wearying" in terms of organising
witnesses and experts to get to Invercargill for jury trials.
"I cannot, of course, speak for the judiciary, the court
staff or the defendants involved. But this is a collective
problem and it sits uneasily with the long-held value that a
person is tried by their peers in their own community."
Given the ministry saw a "court" as a set of services, it was
not surprising its first priority was to provide a full set
of court services back in Dunedin as soon as possible.
If the building were to close permanently, the Otago branch
would be deeply saddened.
The Otago Daily Times asked the ministry for all reports and
assessments to date related to seismic risk and strengthening
work for the building, and was directed to the seismic
assessment released at the time of the courthouse's partial
Mr Fisher said a full engineering report was prepared for the
ministry in confidence, and declined to release it.
When the building was closed, ministry officials said the
work would take a year and the seismic assessment estimated
the strengthening work required to bring the building up to
67% of code would cost $4.1 million.
The costs so far include $600,000 to relocate to John
Wickliffe House, about $6000 for the relocation of staff and
documents, $169,462 for the construction of a waiting room
and toilets in the modern part of the courthouse, where
criminal courts are still being run, and $51,708 for seismic
assessments and design options.
The legal community believe those and other costs related to
running Dunedin trials in Invercargill are likely to bring
the total to at least $2 million so far.