LABOR has promised $152.4 million to rebuild the Bendigo Law Courts at the site of Bendigo TAFE if re-elected later this month.
The new courts will replace a building at the corner of Mundy and Hargreaves streets.
The courts will be set over three levels and include eight courtrooms, two hearing rooms and two mediation suites.
It will also become a Specialist Family Violence Court, along with capacity for drug court assessment and referral.
Watch: Premier Daniel Andrews announces the new law courts (story continues below)
Bendigo courts will become a Level Two Regional Headquarter Court, upgrading its capacity for handling matters in regional Victoria.
Construction will start in 2019 and completion is due in 2022.
Labor estimates the project will create 450 jobs and 24 ongoing jobs once complete.
Premier Daniel Andrews will visit Bendigo on Friday morning to make the announcement.
Bendigo’s legal community has campaigned for new law courts for several years, highlighting safety issues with the circa-1892 building on Pall Mall.
Safety issues included respondents to intervention orders and family violence matters, as well as Family Law Court attendees, all entering and waiting in the same areas. Legal professionals were also required to enter with those at the courts for criminal matters.
The future use of the historic building remains unclear, with historical groups calling for it to be converted into a general history museum for Bendigo.
Mr Andrews said the new law courts would improve the efficiency of justice in Bendigo, while making the process safer for those attending for family violence matters.
He said it would be a vast improvement on the current 18th century facilities.
“If you’ve got courtrooms that you can’t use, if you’ve got facilities that are just not fit for purpose, that adds to the workload as well,” Mr Andrews said.
“Family violence, it remains our number one law and order issue across the whole nation.
“With the investments we’ve made – the priorities we’ve made – of family violence, we can be confident about better outcomes for everybody involved.
“This is one of those things where if you don’t build the new facilities, you’re always going to be held back from running a much more efficient system.”
Bendigo Law Association looks forward to improved safety and efficiency
President of the Bendigo Law Association Juliana Smith says the new law courts will allow for the modern delivery of justice, and will provide Bendigo with the “most modern courts in Victoria”.
She said those accessing and working in the current Pall Mall law courts had long grappled with safety and efficiency issues, which had hampered the effective delivery of justice.
Ms Smith said it was a “vast improvement” for Bendigo.
“It’s really quite hard to compare with the facilities that we have at the moment – they are 120 years old,” she said.
“Separate entrances allow for better security and safety for people attending for family violence matters. We just don’t have that in the current courts.
“We don’t have specialist facilities for mental health and drug issues either.
“We are trying to deal with 21st century problems in a building from 120 years ago.
“The Bendigo Law Association is very pleased that it has now taken another step forward.”
TAFE services to shift to development elsewhere in CBD precinct
TAFE services based in the C-building – to make way for new law courts – will be relocated elsewhere in the campus while another development at the site is complete.
As part of a $59.9 million funding commitment, a new G-building will be constructed at the corner of Hargreaves and Chapel streets – the final stage of the overall McCrae Street campus redevelopment.
That development is expected to be complete by January, 2021 – 12 months before the law courts are complete.
Services in the C-building include an information centre for enrolments, a skills and jobs centre, hair and beauty and art design.
The G-building will include a shop front for the hair and beauty courses.
‘It doesn’t address crime’: Liberals sceptical of law courts funding
Liberal candidate for Bendigo East Ian Ellis says Labor’s proposal to build new courts in the Bendigo CBD would not have an impact on crime.
“It doesn’t address crime,” he said.
“What it does is it shows that they acknowledge that there’s a large amount of crime and they’re look at dealing with the offenders, not actually addressing the crime.
“It’s been needed for a very long time. They have been in power for 15 of the last 19 years so why didn’t they do it sooner?”
Mr Ellis said he would be lobbying for the Coalition to match the funding commitment.
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