Legal community’s plea for upgraded courts

THE Bendigo legal community is hopeful the refurbishment of the city’s law courts will be included in a strategic plan, to be released this week.

The outdated law courts were the main focus of a number of speeches during the ceremony to formally open the legal year in Bendigo on Tuesday.

Justice Jack Forrest said upgrading the courts had been identified as a priority for the safety of the community and court staff.

“In December last year, Bendigo was identified as an immediate priority for a new or refurbished courts,” he said.

“Court services Victoria will release its strategic assets plan on Wednesday, and I am confident this court will be a priority in that plan.

“The bottom line, as I understand it, is that it is hoped a business case will be formulated, and come under consideration in early 2018.”

An Infrastructure Victoria report from last year identified the required capital works on the court as a priority for the Loddon-Mallee region.

The circa-1980s building has outgrown its purpose in the modern era – a fact not lost on James Mighell SC, who spoke on behalf of the Victorian Bar.

He said the court building was once described as having “innovative planning and was carefully proportioned”, but that was no longer the case.

“The importance of this court to the citizens of Bendigo is obvious and is highlighted by the increase in demand for court services over recent years,” Mr Mighell said.

“As a result of community expectations, including recent events such as the Bourke Street tragedy, there will be increased pressure on our court system.”

He said upgrades would be needed if the building was expected to host a night court for bail applications.

“If this facility is utilised, I assume the gas lighting will once again be put to good use. One can only hope that appropriate resources are provided to update this building,” Mr Mighell said.

Security was recently increased in the Bendigo court precinct, including in the old building.