By ERWIN CHLANDA
The NT Government endlessly gripes about the debt left to it by its Labor predecessor. Why is it now seeking tenders for two new supreme courts, no expenses spared?
The brief for the tender, closing on May 25, makes it clear that the government will not be using the court building (pictured), corner Railway and Stott Terraces, for which it is committed to a 10 year lease entered by the previous government, and which is mothballed.
The tender document gives the impression it is tailor-made for a new building, or part of it, planned by the construction company Sitzlers, on the site of the old Commonwealth Bank.
Says a spokesperson for the Minister for Corporate and Information Services: ”The Territory Government is exploring alternative uses for the property [opposite Billygoat Hill] given the former Labor Government entered into a 10 year lease in mid-2011.
“While the property is configured as a hearing room to accommodate the former Government’s Alcohol Courts, it is not suitable for use by the Supreme Court as there is no way to accommodate a jury.
“The Government is exploring other options to ensure the building can serve a useful purpose for taxpayers.”
These assertions are questionable. After several requests the Alice Springs News Online was given permission to inspect the building.
We were not allowed to take photographs inside – no reason was given for this.
However, we took approximate measurements of the interior and there seems to be plenty of room for one court, including a jury room, reducing the apparent need from two new courts to one.
At the eastern end of the complex are toilets and washrooms. Then there is a room 16 by 12 metres formerly apparently used as an office, with some desks still inside.
Then comes the court room, 12 by 12 metres, and adjacent to it, a room measuring 4 by 12 metres.
At the western end, where the entrance from Railway Terrace is, are more toilets and a small lobby.
There is also a door at the eastern end of the complex, so participants in a hearing can avoid coming in contact with each other, if necessary.
Of course, the rather mundane building opposite Billygoat Hill falls rather short of some of the government’s ambitions: “The building should be dignified, stately, and authoritative to achieve a presence within the CBD appropriate to a Supreme Court, a superior Court of the Northern Territory,” the tender document requires.
“It should be architecturally impressive, iconic and convey a style commensurate with the dignity of the Courts.”
It’s language more suitable to a building that, for example, enhances the lifestyle of locals, or boosts tourism – such as a centre celebrating the region’s ample cultural riches – not a place where the community’s most depraved events are dealt with, day in, day out, and with scant signs of improvement to the region’s oppressive crime rate.
“Location should be as close as possible to the existing Courts and proposed new Police Headquarters and Station in the Greatorex Building,” says the brief – a clear advantage for the Sitzler location.
The 172 page tender document outlines a facility that has everything that opens and shuts.
The winning tenderer would be required to provide for a 20 year lease multiple rooms, offices, car parks or toilets for judges, witnesses, defendants, counsel, court staff and so that members of the public who may have differences can avoid one another.
• “Secure judicial parking” – would it not benefit Their Honours to take a brisk walk to Billygoat Hill from wherever they are parking their cars right now?
• “Counsel Robing Room Lounge and Kitchenette” – could counsel perhaps arrive at the court robed?
“The Robing Room needs to accommodate the installation of twelve (12) full size lockers, full height mirror and space for legal counsel to robe” and to “include male and female toilet facilities for the exclusive use of legal counsel”.
Given today’s advanced communications systems – video, audio, email – and the numerous vacant commercial premises in town, plus the already existing registry office in Parsons Street, why is it necessary to create space for the registry including a counter area, work space, offices, distributor room, staff room?
And why do the Director of Public Prosecutions, NT Legal Aid and Aboriginal Legal Aid (all publicly funded) need offices in addition to those they already have in Alice Springs – a short walk away? Why a court recording room?
The building – new or refurbished – would need to “contribute to the civic architecture of Alice Springs and be clearly visible within the street as a public building”.
And: “The Supreme Court must be removed from, and free of ordinary commercial and partisan pressure.” On the other hand “it should not inhibit commercial development”.
This raises the question: Would the shenanigans outside the courthouse, attendant to some trials, not inhibit more than commercial development right in the heart of the CBD?
By ERWIN CHLANDA