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Crumbling courts can’t wait any longer

19-Mar-2015

The state’s Chief Justice, Chris Kourakis, has demanded an urgent “substantial investment” in the courts precinct, including around $30 million to bring its IT systems into the modern age

“We must move forward quickly,” Kourakis said, after the Government confirmed it had walked away from a promised $500 million new courts hub, which was to begin construction this year.

He said “alternative options” were now being considered to address a lack of courtroom space, but that IT issues needed urgent attention.

“The basic system which simply records our data is no longer supported by our providers; it is a legacy system,” he said.

“Lawyers and through them the community are demanding a courts systems that is more accessible online … Our best estimate is that something in the order of $30 million would be required.”

He said there was “simply a shortage of court rooms”, along with a multitude of other problems.

“The building in which we stand at the moment (the Sir Samuel Way Building on Victoria Square) has concrete cancer in the concrete facades, which means that large slabs are falling off.

“The Supreme Court across the road lacks the most basic of facilities – from power points to cabling to hot water…There is 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.”

Indeed, it’s understood one bureaucrat told Attorney-General John Rau departmental staff wouldn’t be allowed to work in the existing Supreme Court building, such were the OHS concerns. Rau says he doesn’t “understand there to have been any formal declaration that that’s the case.”

InDaily has been told of one flight of stairs which 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”.

“There are exposed wires, cables run over doors … the sort of things you just don’t expect to see in a modern office, let alone a court building,” one source said.

Rau agrees the building is “Dickensian” and “not compliant with a whole bunch of issues”. He is familiar with the ad hoc safety mattress: “I have heard of that, but whether it’s an urban myth, I’m not sure.”

Rau told InDaily he didn’t believe an IT upgrade or his long-flagged broader reform of the justice system would be affected by the backflip.

But he is effectively going back to the drawing board, “lining up in the queue” for budget submissions.

“I’m disappointed, but I’ve no qualms at all about the decision; it’s not appropriate to proceed in this way,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s become a debacle at all … The basic proposition hasn’t changed; the existing facilities are not adequate – that’s not changed. The fact we need to spend money to upgrade has not changed. Doing nothing is not an option – that’s not changed.”

InDaily understands cabinet signed off on an “off-balance sheet approach” to the courts project, which effectively places the burden of risk on the private sector. Preferred partner Lend Lease took that risk, and has been stung even before contracts were signed, but Rau doubts the Government will face any legal claim.

“I believe not,” he said, adding that Lend Lease would “obviously have some intellectual property around the work they’ve done” if those plans were used as the basis of any future project.

He said the Public Private Partnership model the state was pursuing turned out to be flawed.

“Their (Lend Lease’s) product was fine. Where we ran into a problem was that as a value for money proposition. The cost of their financing arrangements to the taxpayer wasn’t value for money compared to a state government build,” he said.

“I’m not saying we made the wrong decision, but it’s clear that the PPP model – whilst it produced a design solution everyone thought was fine, in fact very good – was not justifiable from taxpayers’ point of view in terms of outlay.”

It’s unclear just what the alternative will be now that the redevelopment will “line up with all the other bids in the budget process”.

Rau says he’s “not in a position to rule anything in or out at any point about that”, and the mooted $500 million construction cost seems increasingly like a stab in the dark.

“$500 million is a guesstimate; don’t take $500 million as an exact figure,” warned Rau.

“But it’s inescapable that the existing buildings are going to require significant investment, even to bring them up to acceptable standard.”

SA Property Council executive director Daniel Gannon said the decision to discontinue the build “is a disappointing short-term result for South Australia and our property sector”.

“It’s paramount to consider the impact on South Australia’s justice system if redevelopment isn’t undertaken in the very near future,” he said.

Read the original article: http://indaily.com.au/news/2015/03/13/crumbling-courts-cant-wait-longer-chief-justice/

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