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Bar Association slams Govt funding priorities as "neglected" courts languish

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The president of the state’s Bar Association has lashed the Weatherill Government’s spending priorities, arguing it is “catching votes” with funding commitments to the arts ahead of addressing the “public disgrace” that is the existing Supreme Court precinct.

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The Government last year abandoned a much-hyped plan to build a new $500 million courts precinct, arguing the proposed private/public partnership did not represent “value for money”.

Attorney-General John Rau is currently undertaking a broader reform of the justice portfolio, but the judiciary has made no secret of its frustration with the existing courts precinct.

In his regular email missive to members, Bar Association president Andrew Harris yesterday revealed he been “imprisoned” in a faulty elevator in the Supreme Court Library Building on the corner of Gouger St on Monday, reflecting that the “appalling” condition of the “shamefully neglected” current facility represented “a public disgrace”.

He ridiculed this week’s budget announcement of a $35 million upgrade to Her Majesty’s Theatre, positing that “one must ask what ‘budget deliberations’, if they were fair dinkum and not targeted at catching votes, could possibly have placed the refurbishment of Her Majesty’s ahead of the urgent work required to build a new complex to house the Supreme Court”.

“One must also ask the question of why the Government is prepared to spend money like a drunken sailor on the glittering new arts and entertainment precinct adjacent to Parliament House, the Festival Theatre and Adelaide Oval and yet consistently fail to support the administration of justice in this State,” Harris continued.

“Lack of funding is not at the heart of this issue but rather it is a lack of commitment to the third arm of government.”

Chief Justice Chris Kourakis lamented last year that the Samuel Way Building on Victoria Square “has concrete cancer in the concrete facades, which means that large slabs are falling off”, while “the Supreme Court across the road lacks the most basic of facilities – from power points to cabling to hot water [and] no disability access”.

“Some of the court rooms are so poorly ventilated and in such a poor state that they simply can’t be used as courts,” he said at the time.

InDaily has previously reported that one flight of stairs has a mattress strategically placed on the floor below “to break the fall for judges who lose their footing going down stairs which aren’t compliant”.

Harris said “history suggests that politicians only see votes in bashing the third arm of government – not in properly funding it”.

Asked whether the July 7 budget would address the flailing courts precinct, Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said through a spokesman: “We will not play the rule in-rule out game in the lead-up to the Budget.”

The full text of the Bar Association president’s email to members

Monday 20 June began pretty well really.  It is my son Will’s fourth birthday and after presents in the early hours of the morning and a hearty breakfast, Libby and I dropped the birthday boy at ELC.

As my diary showed no court commitments this morning we had a coffee together after drop off and then I made my way into Chambers at about 9.30.  I had been on the phone prior to arrival and so it was not until about 9.40 that I retrieved a rather stressed voice message from my instructing solicitor wondering why I had not turned up for a 9.30 directions hearing before [Justice] Hinton in Court 6 in the Supreme Court Library building.  Unfortunately this commitment was erroneously in my diary for next Monday morning.

Without even stopping to collect the brief I raced to the Library Building and entered the elevator expecting to be whisked to the third floor and Court 6 in order that I might make my apologies to His Honour for this oversight.  The initial response of the elevator was encouraging in that the sound of motorised activity could be heard after I had pushed the button.  This was followed by an equally encouraging upward movement of the elevator which suggested to me that the elevator had set about elevating.

I was lost in thought as I formulated in my head what I was going to say in my first appearance before Justice Hinton since I had appeared for the Bar and welcomed him to the Court.  Should I descend into detail about it being Will’s fourth birthday?  Was the fact of coffee after drop off really relevant?  Did anything else really matter other than the fact that I had got the date wrong (i.e. that there was no one to blame but me)?

My thoughts were interrupted by the elevator coming to a very sudden stop between floors, following which it bounced up and down several times.  The bouncing of the elevator was accompanied by mechanical groaning and grumbling, which is usually associated with machinery which is about to take a terminal breath.  Then there was silence and mid-floor immobility.  The bouncing of the elevator made me feel a little like a prisoner in a square metal yoyo and I rather hoped that the yoyo string which was holding me up didn’t decide to give up the ghost and send me crashing to the ground below.

The Sheriff’s Officers who assisted me were terrific, including relaying a message to the Associate to Justice Hinton as to my present whereabouts and predicament.  The elevator technician who attended and fixed the technical problem was completely professional and I would like to thank all involved for assisting in my release.

In the ten or fifteen minutes that I was imprisoned in the elevator I reflected on the condition of the land and “improvements” which comprise the Supreme Court precinct.  I was unable to decide on the appropriate descriptor but managed to narrow it down to “appalling”, “shamefully neglected” and/or “a public disgrace”. I have raised this issue on many occasions, however the answer to the Government’s failure to provide proper facilities for the third arm of government appears to be that there is no money available for such a project.  Indeed, last year, when announcing the shelving of the Supreme Court redevelopment project, the Government announced that further consideration of the project “will now occur in the context of budget deliberations”.  I have previously observed that there is more than a bit of Yes Minister about a statement such as that.

Lack of funding is not at the heart of this issue but rather it is a lack of commitment to the third arm of government.

I passed the remainder of my imprisonment by accessing news media on my phone in order to find out what was happening in South Australia and beyond.

I was thrilled to read that the Treasurer of this State, Mr Koutsantonis, has announced that the State Government will invest $35.2 million in a construction project involving the upgrading of Her Majesty’s Theatre and that this investment is part of next month’s State Budget.  According to the Treasurer, the upgrade would attract more national and international shows to Adelaide and, in turn, boost tourism.

Now I love Her Majesty’s and I would not begrudge work being done to return it to its former glory – however, one must ask what “budget deliberations”, if they were fair dinkum and not targeted at catching votes, could possibly have placed the refurbishment of Her Majesty’s ahead of the urgent work required to build a new complex to house the Supreme Court?

One must also ask the question of why the Government is prepared to spend money like a drunken sailor on the glittering new arts and entertainment precinct adjacent to Parliament House, the Festival Theatre and Adelaide Oval and yet consistently fail to support the administration of justice in this State?

Lack of funding is not at the heart of this issue but rather it is a lack of commitment to the third arm of government.  History suggests that politicians only see votes in bashing the third arm of government not in properly funding it.

On my release I attended before Justice Hinton, who was gracious and understanding.  Despite being accurate in every respect, my apology and explanation did rather sound like “the cat ate my homework”.

I took the stairs when I left Court 6.

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