I can remember when the justice precinct was being built. As a community organisation that works with people going through the courts, Pillars was consulted from the start.
For those not from Christchurch, I should tell you that the precinct includes the courts, Corrections’ Regional Office, Police HQ. St John, Civil Defence and various other organisations. I have no idea where they all reside within the premises.
I remember we all went to a room somewhere (perhaps in a pre-fab unit) and were shown the plans for the complex. It was immediately obvious that it was going to be a somewhat daunting place. A huge city block ringed by huge buildings.
A number of us expressed reservations. We wanted a place where people and their families could go, relax, get help and advice, have a cup of coffee and feel, if not at home, at least relieved of fear.
“Don’t worry”, we were told at that stage. There would be coffee bars and other places available throughout the complex. On the main floor, there would be rooms where community organisations could offer advice and support, and meet with clients. The centre of the complex would be a large garden courtyard which would be open so that children could play in warmer weather and people could get a breath of air.
Over the months following, the briefings became increasingly dismal. Because of security needs, the community room would now be located on a higher floor. It would be by appointment only. The idea of multiple coffee bars changed to one small service area serving mostly coffee and not set up for families. Eventually the idea of community staff working from the building was dropped.
Increasingly (and I have seen this in other places, for example, the prisons) the logic of security squeezed out the need for community. While the old courthouse was a rambling, crowded place, at least it was alive with people going about their business. The new space is so big it is bare and alienating. And packed full with security staff.
Yesterday I was there with a group for a hearing and it was quite nice in some ways. Although, looking for somewhere to talk together, you find that the fixed seating is arranged in rows so people cannot have a conversation. Justice is, apparently, a very solitary affair.
But, when I attended the trial after my Grandson was killed, I found it a comfortless place. Maybe that is the intention – that all should suffer together in the pursuit of justice.
Yesterday, we were pleased to get out for lunch to the chaotic and friendly Riverside market, where one of Dimitri’s souvlakis soon provided comfort and deliciousness.
As a result of Covid (and who knows what the logic was of that decision), the precinct has now instituted a one-way system. You have to enter through the Lichfield Street entrance and leave through the bleak, unforgiving and shelterless St Asaph Street.
The rule seems almost designed to increase people’s discomfort, to make things harder. I cannot imagine how it might chase Covid away. Too many security staff, not enough health and wellbeing, in my view.
One bright moment was when a door opened down the block and a bloke appeared. He had a big grin on his face. “Your own private door?” I asked. He said “I’ve been released” and went off down the road, happy as Larry.
Our hearing finished (mercifully) at 4pm, and we headed down to the Tannery to try a good craft beer. We had a very nice couple of hours (pizza and cold beer) before I had to get my colleague back to the airport (yes I only had one beer in two hours, thanks).
A day at the courts was OK. I think that if I spent much longer there, I would feel my soul being sucked out through my nose.