AS SOME OF Australia’s leading judges return from a week-long conference in Paris, criticised by some commentators as being a holiday at taxpayers’ expense, the Australian organisers defended the trip and revealed that the judges had little time to sightsee.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, organisers National Court of the Future Project, at the University of Canberra, claimed that in sending judges, architects and court planners to Paris, it was trying “to promote cross disciplinary partnerships, with the idea that any one profession doesn’t see everything but if you work with other relevant professions you are more likely to get a good product”, said coordinator David Tait.
“It wasn’t just judges,” said Tait. “We had some of the senior planners who are involved in building new courts or restoring them. And three top architects who have been involved in court design. The judges that came are those who had particular expertise in the organisation of space and decisions about future court buildings or renovating old ones,” he said.
Federal Court Chief Justice Michael Black was in Paris for the five-day conference on the subject of court architecture and judicial rituals. With him were peers Queensland Supreme Court Justice Paul de Jersey, Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, and other leading Australian judges.
Reports in the major press last week questioned the necessity of the recent judicial trip to the City of Light, but commentators have come out in its defence. New South Wales Bar Association president Ian Harrison SC last week told Lawyers Weekly that “as a matter of principle, what needs to be understood is that interaction between any groups of professionals, be they judges or lawyers or architects or plumbers or doctors … is generally productive of the exchange of ideas and information to the betterment of the people they serve”.
Tait said the trip would allow the judges to “get a much better sense of some of the practical issues involved in building new courts, in particular, because the French have an entirely different style of organising the tendering of courts”.
“They use these international competitions and they get absolutely top architects with iconic designs but with some problems to do with the fine tuning of space for particular purposes. Because the architects have a lot of autonomy, which is good in some ways, it means they are really unified, beautiful buildings, but it sometimes means that things don’t work at the grass roots level, like cords that you trip over,” Tait said.
The conference was criticised as being just another holiday for judges at taxpayers’ expense after judges were seen sightseeing last year in Florence, while at another business-related conference.
But Tait rejects claims that the Paris conference was a holiday. “It’s going around, spending a week with really good architects who really notice these things. It’s that kind of experience of working together that makes a difference,” he said.
“Everyone contributed to their costs, and we had it pretty much bargain basement, we didn’t make a profit. It is a really a service that we provided for courts in order to promote a better collaboration between the different professions.”
A court tour around Paris
AS PART of the international trip to Paris, a selection of Australia’s leading judges, architects and court planners made day trips to various court sites in and outside the city. “There were several types of learning experiences, one of them was going onsite to particular courts and talking with the French experts. [They were] walking around and saying ‘what’s this for, how does this work, what are the problems’,” said the organiser, National Court of the Future coordinator David Tait.
“We did that in Nantes, a fairly new court that is quite controversial and quite sombre. It is beautifully built and is a great place to visit. We went there with the professor of architecture from the local university. He knew that building really well and could give us a balanced perspective on it. Then we talked to the people inside and realised that some people like it and some people hate it, it has red court rooms and is designed to promote a feeling that justice is really serious and is not to be taken lightly. It is one style of justice and is one architect’s view of how it ought to be done,” Tait said.
The group also went to Pontoise, a suburb of Paris, where they were joined by an architect of the court there. “Everyone who met him was totally impressed with him,” said Tait, “it is a stunningly beautiful building with lots of light.”
As well, the visitors took part in a comparative jury performance, using French judges, prosecutors and lawyers against Australian judges, prosecutors and lawyers. Chinese judges also took part, who were joined by some Chinese members of the Paris Bar.
“The French were all dressed up in their beautiful French robes. We were interested in the implications for the use of space — if you have different cultural practice does that mean you need to reshape the court buildings, and the circulation areas and the separations? As an example, in France the judge and jury all go out together and deliberate, which means you have to have space at the front for them to form a semi circular bench ... Whereas the Chinese don’t bother about juries at all,” Tait said.
Court of the Future is running a conference in Melbourne in April next year that brings together architecture, security and technology in court design.