It seems to be such a shame to go off all ballistic on the eve of a pleasant Christmas week, but the announcement today about the cost over-runs on the Supreme Court fair made my blood boil. While normally a left of centre supporter, and one who lives in sick apprehension about the mayhem about to be unleashed upon us by National’s unrestricted puppies of Doom, the whole sorry shameful saga of the new Supreme Court is symptomatic of the craziness of bureaucracy gone made. The newspaper gleefully announced that the cost of the Supreme Court had gone up from $65million to $80million. Personally, I feel like we should all be marching in the street, baricading the roads, and at the very least throwing shoes and sandals at both the Heritage lobby and members of the Legal fraternity. How ridiculous can our small country get? How pumped up and self important can both the Heritage bods and the Legal hoods be, to mandate spending that enormous amount of money on the combined new/old building?
Despite sitting empty and unloved for 10 ? 15? 20? years, the old Court always had a Grade 1 listed registration, befitting its important heritage function. I don’t doubt that – it is a lovely old building, worthy of listing and restoration: although if it had not been left to rot and decay for so long, it would not be in the perilous state it is in now – which is apparently the cause of a goodly portion of that horrendous cost overrun.
The new building, by comparison, going up smoothly next door, is progressing well, with a skeletal structure of curved studs inside showing off the interior of the hollowed pumpkin we will one day have as a Supreme Court. But hold on, you say: if the new part is the new Supreme Court, then what is the old bit?
Sadly, it seems, the old bit is just exactly that: an old bit, with no more use or function than a sack of mouldy potatoes. You see, the old court building (despite being a regular centre for Law for many years before decamping to the soulless lawpits nearby), can only seat a couple of judges abreadth on the bench. And the new Supreme Court requires 3. Or is it 1 and 5?
Whatever. I’m not the architect. Nor the heritage advisor. But what that has meant is that we are paying to restore a building, which at most is going to be used as a set piece of staid, dry, perfectly preserved and totally useless heritage architecture: that collectively we (the taxpayers) have all been paying for. Why not just enlarge the bench?
Optimistically, the old court may be used as a ‘education’ area for school children to ‘educate them’ in the ways of the law. But if only a modicum of common sense had been utilised, the old building could have been adapted, and fulfilled the functions of the new building alongside that we are also paying for. A building big enough for, say, maybe even 5 judges to sit alongside each other. And just how often do these judges sit? 8 hours a day? 5 hours a day? 3 hours?
How about 3 hours a week, or a month? Is that more like it? Our appeals to the Privy Council – yes, outdated, anachronistic, on another land far far away, do not happen often – but then neither do they last that long. A week ago, Joe Karam’s never ending battle to clear the name of David Bain resulted in a 45 minute presentation to Britain’s Privy Council, who then summed up their answer in a record 7 minutes, and then presumably went home for tea.
I’m not a legal expert (what? You guessed?) but it seems like a simple and cost effective scheme to me – certainly we’re not paying them $80 million. Court buildings are, by their nature, largely empty most of the time – except of course in the petty criminal District Courts and Family courts, where a steady stream of abused and abusive villains tread a well-worn route from remand to jail, via a few infantile gestures to their adoring and equally retarded family members before they disappear below deck once more on their way to another stretch on the inside.
But so we’re going to have one court building, beautifully restored, sitting empty for all time bar the occasional schoolchild in a mock jury; and another building, brand spanking new and curiously ovoid inside, sitting largely empty all year round. All to satisfy the whims of the Judges who require enough leg space and bottom width to pen their notes in comfort: denied the opportunity to enlarge the bench by the obstinate blockading by the Heritage lobby.
A bit of give and take was what was required here. Judges wanted roof-gardens, and separate entrances. Heritage advocates wanted no changes at all. Stenographers wanted a new audio system. Criminals wanted a fair trial. The public wants them all locked away. School children want to watch their class-mates put on a wig.
What do we want at Eye of the Fish? Well: not to be saddled with a ridiculously large bill for two under-utilised spaces for a start.