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Chief Justice canes ‘poor’ court facilities

The deteriorating condition of South Australia’s ageing courts infrastructure is impeding authorities from delivering “the standard of justice the South Australian community deserves”, the state’s Chief Justice warns.

Nov 30, 2023, updated Nov 30, 2023
The Sir Samuel Way Building (left) and the Supreme Court building (right) are both more than 100-years old. Photos: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Sir Samuel Way Building (left) and the Supreme Court building (right) are both more than 100-years old. Photos: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Victims of crimes are also being left without safe spaces and people with a disability still find it “challenging” to access court facilities, Chief Justice Chris Kourakis said in his foreword to the Courts Administration Authority’s (CAA) annual report, tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

“The built infrastructure of the courts is in poor condition,” Kourakis said.

“In many of its buildings, the CAA is unable to provide accessible, modern facilities to victims, witnesses, jurors, and court users, who have given up their time to help in the administration of justice.”

Kourakis said while the use of technology in court hearings is “widespread”, it is “often challenging to facilitate its use by all court users such as jurors and witnesses”.

“It is difficult to provide victims safe spaces within the court buildings and it remains challenging for people living with a disability to access the courts,” he said.

“Our ageing court infrastructure is impeding our ability to deliver the standard of justice the South Australian community deserves.”

The state’s legal profession and judiciary have long been frustrated with a lack of investment in South Australia’s courts infrastructure, particularly in Adelaide where the state’s most powerful courts operate in state heritage buildings constructed more than 100-years ago.

The Supreme Court building on the corner of King William and Gouger streets has been operating as the Supreme Court since 1873. The Adelaide Magistrates Court building on Angas Street dates back even further, to 1851.

The Adelaide Magistrates Court. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Sir Samuel Way building on the corner of Victoria Square and Gouger Street was first built in 1916 as a department store. It started operating as a court in 1983 and now houses the Supreme Court criminal jurisdiction, District Court and Environment Resources and Development Court.

“The CAA’s court infrastructure is ageing and struggling to meet contemporary expectations, creating significant challenges for the CAA in supporting the administration of justice,” state court administrator Penny Croser said in her foreword to the annual report.

The Sir Samuel Way Building in Victoria Square. Picture: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“The CAA’s modest maintenance budget is prioritised against the greatest need and addressing major barriers to the administration of justice, such as, improving disability access and addressing work health safety risks.”

The CAA also warned last year that the Adelaide Youth Court at 75 Wright Street was “not fit for purpose” and in need of a “major refurbishment”, saying that some youth hearings were spilling over into adult courts due to a lack of space.

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In 2015, the Weatherill Government shelved a proposal to unify the Supreme, District, Youth and Coroners courts into a $500 million, three towers complex behind the old Supreme Court building.

The Malinauskas Government this year earmarked that land as a staging area for SA Police’s Mounted Operations Unit.

InDaily asked Attorney-General Kyam Maher’s office whether he agreed with the chief justice’s assessment of South Australia’s courts infrastructure, and what measures the government has taken to improve it.

A government spokesperson highlighted a 2017/18 state budget measure providing $31 million to the CAA to redevelop higher court facilities.

This included five new refurbished civil courtrooms in the old Supreme Court building and three new criminal courtrooms on level five of the Sir Samuel Way Building.

The Weatherill Government-era upgrade also included new mediation suites, judicial chambers and administrative facilities.

An $11 million façade repair for the Sir Samuel Way Building, announced by the Marshall Government, is also expected to be completed in 2024.

Croser said the façade repairs and separate conservation works to the old Supreme Court building have “had a positive impact on the built infrastructure, albeit external façade”.

The CAA’s budget for 2023/24 is just over $98 million.

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