5 Aug 2017

Privacy concerns prompts refit of partially constructed youth court

8:37 pm on 5 August 2017

Privacy concerns in the youth court at the partially-built Christchurch Justice Precinct have forced contractors to go back and install frosting on some windows.

The southwest corner of the precinct which is believed to house the youth court.

The southwest corner of the precinct which is believed to house the youth court. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

The $300 million facility is overseen by the Ministry of Justice and will house the courts, emergency services and Civil Defence, in the central city.

The Ministry of Justice has repeatedly said the building would be open by mid-2017, but after three years of construction the precinct is yet to be completed.

A source close to the Justice Precinct project, who did not wish to be named, said a judge called an urgent meeting with the Ministry of Justice when they discovered the youth court, in the south-west corner of the precinct, had extensive glass in its design.

This allowed people outside the courtroom to see, and potentially identify, people inside.

There is strict legislation in place to protect the identity of young victims and offenders who appear in the youth court, due to their age. By law, they, and anyone associated with them, are granted automatic name suppression.

RNZ put the source's claim to the Ministry of Justice, who did not deny that contractors had to revisit the youth court to install frosting after a judge raised the issue.

In a statement, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said there was construction work still ongoing throughout the courtrooms, and all facilities were being tested to ensure they complied with the law.

A spokesperson for the Justice Minister, Amy Adams, said the issue of privacy in the youth court was for the Ministry, and the minister would not comment.

Lawyer and Labour candidate for Central Christchurch, Duncan Webb, said the mistake showed a lack of understanding of the court system.

"It's a pretty basic error, the youth courts require real discretion and privacy," he said.

"If you're an architect designing a court that would be the one of the first things you would think about."

The Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the ministry looked forward to the courts being operational "later this year" but did not confirm a date.

Previous design problems with build

Local lawyers were not impressed at the ongoing delays.

A New Zealand Law Society chairperson, Craig Ruane, said the ministry had not told lawyers when the precinct would be operational.

He said he had heard a rumour it would be sometime in October, but that had not been confirmed.

This was not the first time design problems from inside the precinct had come to light.

In June, RNZ revealed that some of the doors in the precinct had to be redesigned, after it was found police van did not have space to turn around.

A police spokesperson confirmed the problem, and the doors had to be replaced.

The Ministry of Justice denied there was ever a problem.

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