I don’t like guideline judgments. I mean, I do. But what I like even more are the judgments of the Court of Appeal *after* a guideline judgment. The ones where the Court says “pffft nice try, losers, but what we really meant was this”. I’m looking forward to those.
The Court of Appeal doesn’t like guideline judgments either. Zhang v R  NZCA 507 is a judgment written with a pencil taped to the end of a bargepole. It’s an exercise in pre-emptive dread, knowing that words intended to afford flexibility and discretion will begin to ossify the second they go beyond Molesworth Street. Throughout the judgment there are reminders to readers that sound increasingly desperate. Just because the Court is suggesting some numbers and bands doesn’t mean you can’t sentence outside them. Just because they put a number on a percentage discount doesn’t mean it couldn’t go higher. Just because we’re the Court of Appeal you don’t have to do what we say. It won’t work. Like a tragically hip relief teacher, attempts to get down with the youth in the District Court won’t work. It’s axiomatic that a guideline judgment becomes axiomatic. The rote learners of this world, which include nearly all criminal practitioners on both sides, will be saying in a few months time that you can get a 30% discount for addiction, and that this is a band three/lesser role which means a start point of X years, period. What began as a “one size fits all” judgment will shrink in the wash to become simply “one size”.
That’s a pity, because the judgment itself is a work of art. Do you like signposting in writing? This is signposting central. Every point neatly divvied up into four sub-points. Every outstanding argument is promised to be returned to, and its return heralded two paragraphs later. I can’t remember the last time I was able to read a hundred page judgment in one sitting. Even my meme-addled brain with a concentration span of approximately two seconds could follow along. More of this please. You’ll have got the vibe of the decision from the media release. R v Fatu‘s bands are retained with adjustments. There’s now a band five because band four was catching too many people. Role can influence starting point, but not as much as pretty much every intervener wanted. Personal mitigating factors are back on the table for serious drug offending (more, as Downs J would say, about this later). And they’re back in a big way. Around 30% is on offer for addiction, if you can prove it. Add another 25% for guilty plea and the sentencing discounts on offer begin to look like they’re being offered by the Briscoes lady.
The High Court doesn’t normally like guideline judgments but they’re not allowed to say that out loud. They might like this one given that it seems a paean to sentencing discretion. On Friday when my matter got bumped from the chambers list without warning, I wandered into the neighbouring courtroom and watched what might have been the first post-Zhang first instance sentencing – a case called R v Cutler  NZHC 2737 (promptly whacked up on Decisions of Public Interest). It all seemed to work well enough. Ten kilos of meth in an importation and distribution ring gets you approximately a seven year end sentence. That would quite simply not have happened under Fatu.
Prosecutors don’t like guideline judgments too. Perhaps that’s not meant to be said out loud either – this sense that somehow it’s cheating when the rules have been changed and people can get credit for things they didn’t used to get credit for. I don’t know. God forbid we’re churlish about a level playing field. But it’s a case of worst instincts revealed sometimes. And it’s interesting to watch those thoughts being processed. Maybe more on that at another time.
Anyway, I tell you who liked this guideline judgment: Brewer and Moore JJ. Both of them are referred to as “very experienced criminal judges” (at  and ).
For my next trick, this Supreme Court precedent will disappear
The part of the judgment that stands as a triumph of the art of judgery is the section consisting of paragraphs -. The paragraphs are too long to reproduce in full here but they revolutionise/normalise class A drug sentencing by saying that personal mitigating factors can be awarded just as much in drug sentencing cases as any other case. For my money that’s the most important way the judgment lowers sentences for meth offending. Forget starting point; the Court just tinkered with the numbers and let you drop down a band if your role was a bit bystandery. The real movement is giving you tens of percent sentence discounts for personal factors in drug offending. The judgment in particular focused on large discounts for addiction, for mental health, and for social deprivation as part of its general freeing-up of personal mitigating factors in drug offending. It could only do that by explaining how personal mitigating factors could sound strongly in drugs cases, when they previously never did. Watch this.
In the past, you only got an exceedingly small discount for personal factors. That was because of a consistent attitude by the Courts which culminated in a Supreme Court case called Jarden v R  NZSC 69,  3 NZLR 612. The Court of Appeal noted that in Jarden the Supreme Court had said this (at  of Jarden):
As the Courts have repeatedly said, and as we emphasise again, in sentencing those convicted of dealing commercially in controlled drugs the personal circumstances of the offender must be subordinated to the importance of deterrence.
The Court of Appeal had a bit to say about deterrence elsewhere, but that’s for another day. Here’s what the Court in Zhang had to say about Jarden:
 First, given the outcome in Jarden, we do not apprehend the Supreme Court to
have used “subordinated” in any sense implying exclusion of consideration of personal circumstances. Rather, such circumstances are to be weighed in the balance with the needs of deterrence, denunciation, accountability and public protection…
 Thirdly, we think considerable caution must be exercised in the expression of broad principles which may diminish the inherently discretionary weighting of aggravating and mitigating factors in stage two of the sentencing exercise. Indeed, it is a qualified discretion in any event. Section 9(2) of the Sentencing Act requires the court to take into account certain mitigating factors to the extent they are applicable to the particular case. Section 9(3) makes clear the list in s 9(2) is non-exclusive. Section 8(g) requires the court to impose the least restrictive outcome appropriate in the circumstances. Importantly, s 8(h) requires the court to take into account any particular circumstances of the offender that mean the sentence would be disproportionately severe. None of these provisions are expressed by Parliament as being inapplicable, or less applicable, in certain classes of crime.
It’s a two-pronged attack. First, in the finest traditions of intermediate appellate courts everywhere the Court settled on the old “we don’t think that’s what the Supreme Court meant” trick. That’s great as long as no one calls you on it, but that is 100% what the Supreme Court meant. If you keep reading past the “subordinated” line in Jarden the Supreme Court makes clear you can take all these other factors into account (no fettering here), it’s just the weight that they will be afforded will be minimal. Even in Mr Jarden’s case where there were “extreme” personal circumstances “[t]he crucial importance of deterrence requires however that the reduction in sentence be a modest one” (at ).
And second, to the extent the Court of Appeal needs to escape Supreme Court precedent (which they should!) the Court just goes one level higher still to Parliament. Using the shield of Parliamentary sovereignty the Court deploys provisions of the Sentencing Act 2002 to call into doubt the Supreme Court’s observation in Jarden. Again, fine, until you remember that the Supreme Court considered those same statutory provisions in Jarden and came to a different conclusion, by which the Court of Appeal is bound.
After that, hey presto, the Court of Appeal can say:
 It follows that we consider that personal mitigating circumstances relating to the offender, at stage two of the sentencing exercise, are applicable to all instances of Class A drug offending, as in any other offending.
And for just five easy payments of $19.95 I can teach you to do the same.
The result is that flexible approach to stare decisis that I fear might be becoming my thing that I complain about all the time. The idea that, well, if you asked the Supreme Court today about Jarden they would probably say the same thing as the Court of Appeal did in Zhang, so why bother them with it. I guess all I’m saying is that the hierarchy of courts isn’t the same thing as asking your parents if you can borrow their car.
Still, don’t mistake what I say. Zhang v R is a Good Decision™. It means more compassionate, rehabilitative sentences for those addicted. It retains stern sentences for commercial meth importations. It removes strange distinctions for class A drug offending that looked weird a long time ago. It expressly mentions social and cultural deprivation as a personal mitigating factor. It’s good that we get some common-sense liberalism from those notorious lefties in the *checks notes* Court of Appeal. See you out there in this brave new world.
We don’t know what the Court of Appeal will say in its soon(?)-to-be-released guideline judgment on meth sentencing. (EDIT: now we do! It’s going to be released on Monday 21 October at 11.30am!) At the moment the decision is shy (by which I mean it is extremely reserved).
But why should that stop pre-punditry? My opinions are normally so wildly off base I don’t see why not having read the judgment should hold me back. If anything, uninformed commentary means I’m *more* likely to be on the mark.
So, with that in mind, here is the first case note on the Court of Appeal’s decision in Zhang v R.
Wow, what a decision! We can safely say this was written with all audiences in mind. Whether you’re anti-prison, pro-deterrence, a fan of judicial sleight-of hand, or an arch-Parliamentary sovereigntarian; truly, there’s something here for everyone to dislike.
Gone are the four bands of starting points in R v Fatu. Replacing them are twenty-three different overlapping bands of starting point gradation, based on inputs ranging from commerciality, offender role, purity, actual and potential profit, gang affiliation, offender star sign, and the colour of getaway vehicle (if any). An appendix to the judgment sets out an inputs table, that details a range of multipliers to be determined by the sentencing judge on the facts of a particular case and by reference to seven more “archetypal cases” described in the guideline judgment. When the right factors are entered it will generate a starting point between 12 months and 35 years. Do it right and be sure to carry the one, and it’ll take you about four hours per case. It’s basically the Sainte-Laguë method but for starting point.
Now, as the Court of Appeal noted at paragraph 745, “any slight increase in work by busy sentencing judges will be more than made up for by the transparency to sentence calculation engendered by use of the Court’s new sentencing matrix”.
Personally, I think the Court of Appeal erred in factoring offender star sign into the starting point calculation. That is a personal aggravating or mitigating factor and including it in the starting point mix presents a challenge to consistency across defendants.
After calculating the starting point, focus then turns to personal mitigating factors. The Court of Appeal here has latched on to the legislative fact doctrine like a toddler to a parent’s leg. Sure, that pesky court hierarchy meant it couldn’t do much about the Supreme Court’s warning in Jarden v R  NZSC 69,  3 NZLR 612 that when it comes to serious drug offending that “[t]he crucial importance of deterrence requires, however, that the reduction in sentence [for personal factors] be a modest one”.
But as Palmer J pointed out in R v Wellington  NZHC 2196 at  while deterrence is the legislative aim of the game, just how you go about deterring is in fact very much up for grabs. Here, the Court of Appeal relied on studies that showed that long prison sentences don’t do a great job of deterring people in the grip of addiction. Now, whether they should have gone as far as express that finding in the terms they did will be a matter for the wider commentariat (I myself haven’t encountered a judgment with that much swearing in it before).
The focus of sentencing is now – as it should be – the offender’s role and type of meth operation, rather than weight of meth. There are limits though, and the judgment is interesting for its constitutional dance. Parliament is boss and the Court of Appeal can’t do anything about the maximum sentence for meth manufacture or importation. The Court of Appeal can’t do anything about s 8(c) of the Sentencing Act 2002 either. Parliament says to come down like a ton of bricks on *someone*. The courts really only have control over what instances they will pull the lever to drop the masonry. The Court has shown it is willing to take that inch and run 1.6 kilometres with it.
But it all leads to an interesting overall sentencing doctrine from the Court of late, about which more deserves to be written. This decision shows a willingness to grapple with the realities of meth offending. That can be compared, usefully I think, with Solicitor-General v Hutchison  NZCA 162,  3 NZLR 420 where the Court of Appeal threw the book at perpetrators of domestic violence. Peculiarly, there is nothing in Hutchison itself directly calling for higher sentences, but the decision has reverberated in the lower courts in a way perhaps not intended. Then there is Setu v R  NZCA 127 where the Court showed a lack of interest in monitoring sentencing drift in its own Taueki guideline judgment. I don’t know what we learn from all that put together, but there’s something interesting to be charted on it someday about what interests the Court in sentencing policy and administration and what doesn’t; when it will turn to complex solutions and when it won’t.
There will be lots more to unpack from the judgment in the coming days, and even more after we actually know what’s in the judgment. And of course, it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will instead chooses to adopt the approach set out in the surprising two judge dissent.
Right now, a co-defendant’s statement is only really admissible by the prosecution if you want to tender it for the truth of its contents.
Look at s 27(1) of the Evidence Act 2006:
Evidence offered by the prosecution in a criminal proceeding of a statement made by a defendant is admissible against that defendant, and is admissible against a co-defendant in the proceeding only if it is admitted under section 22A.
So the only way a co-defendant’s statement is admitted is through s 22A. But s 22A doesn’t let you admit co-defendant statements generally. It only lets you admit “hearsay statements”. That is, a statement:
By a co-defendant who is not a witness (remember, it’s up to a defendant whether they choose to give evidence); and
That is tendered to prove the truth of its contents.
Next, look at s 22A:
22A Admissibility of hearsay statement against defendant
In a criminal proceeding, a hearsay statement is admissible against a defendant if—
(a) there is reasonable evidence of a conspiracy or joint enterprise; and
(b) there is reasonable evidence that the defendant was a member of the conspiracy or joint enterprise; and
(c) the hearsay statement was made in furtherance of the conspiracy or joint enterprise.
Section 22A is only a route to admit hearsay statements. It doesn’t let you admit co-defendant statements that are not hearsay. And there’s no other route to admissibility in the Act.
There’s a bunch of reasons why you need to be able to admit non-hearsay co-defendant statements. For example, to prove that something was said because it goes to a person’s state of mind. Or, when a co-defendant chooses to give evidence their statements are no longer hearsay. In that case, there has to be a way to admit them.
The difficulty is, the Evidence Act doesn’t let you. Not on its face.
To understand the problem, you’ve got to go back to the beginning.
Fundamentally, co-defendant statements are hearsay if they’re tendered for the truth of their contents. They’re out of court statements by a person who is unavailable as a witness. That’s the Evidence Act idea of hearsay, but they were hearsay under the pre-Evidence Act position as well (see R v Fenton CA 223/00, 14 September 2000 at ).
Importantly, though, under the old law of evidence, if the Crown didn’t want to tender a co-defendant’s statement for the truth of its contents, then it was admissible (see generally Law Commission’s Second Review of the Evidence Act (NZLC R142, 2019) at [15.10]).
Sure, the common law recognised that co-defendant hearsay wasn’t just plain old hearsay. Co-defendant statements carry with them particular risks. Apparently when defendants get caught they have a tendency to blame each other in a bid to exculpate themselves (no honour among thieves and all that). It makes the statements awfully difficult to rely upon, and the normal tests for admitting hearsay statements weren’t up to the task. This impediment to admission was called the co-accused rule (see R v Pearce  NZCA 40 at ).
The common law offered a couple of solutions to the co-accused rule. The main one was the co-conspirator’s exception. If the Crown could prove the statements were made as part of the defendants committing their crimes – made in the heat of the moment if you will – then they were likely to be reliable enough to be admitted to prove the truth of their contents (see R v Pearce  NZCA 40 at ).
But remember, all of that was just a kind of special policy overlay for what was fundamentally an issue of hearsay. Co-defendant statements were just a type of hearsay when they were tendered to prove the truth of their contents. If they weren’t, then they could be admitted.
The Evidence Act 2006 carried over the common law co-conspirator exception in the common law through what used to be s 12A. (As a side note we really don’t have time for, the whole idea of the Evidence Act was to codify the law of evidence but that failed because everyone forgot about ways to admit co-defendant statements using the co-conspirator exception. Section 12A was an emergency patch expressly importing back in the common law in order. No big deal.)
Now, the co-conspirator exception is properly codified in s 22A, and we’ve ditched s 12A.
And now, ackkkk, it’s broken. Section 27(1) keeps out all co-defendant statements unless you can bring them under the co-conspirator exception in s 22A. Which means the Act (purportedly a code) doesn’t give you a means of admitting co-defendant statements when they’re not hearsay.
Well, it *would* be broken if anyone actually followed the Evidence Act. Because the courts pretend this problem doesn’t exist. They have no problem admitting in non-hearsay co-defendant statements, even though the route to doing so is far from clear. Go take a look at a Court of Appeal decision this month called Dheil v R  NZCA 416 at -. Non-hearsay co-defendant statements were admitted no problem.
Right now, you’ve got an Act that doesn’t let you do things, and most courts either (charitably) don’t realise or (less charitably) dodge the issue. In practice, though, if a co-defendant statement is not hearsay, then in it comes say the courts.
The wrong answers
Now, the Law Commission has noticed the issue with how the Act presently doesn’t seem to let you admit co-defendant statements when they’re not hearsay.
It’s not going too far to say though that the Law Commission has concluded that’s a feature, not a flaw.
In the Commission’s Second Review of the Evidence Act the Commission stated (Law Commission’s Second Review of the Evidence Act (NZLC R142, 2019) at [15.20]):
[15.20] The concerns associated with hearsay statements are unlikely to apply to the same degree to defendants’ statements that are not hearsay.
If a defendant’s statement is not hearsay because the defendant elects to give evidence at trial, the co-defendant will be able to test the reliability of the statement by cross-examining the defendant.
If the statement is not hearsay because the prosecution intends to rely on it for a purpose other than proving the truth of its contents, unreliability is less likely to be a significant concern … [there is an important clause in brackets here I’ve removed for now but the point is addressed substantively below].
At least that far, we’re on the same page.
But the Law Commission’s proposed solution to the problem of s 27(1) is that (at [15.21]):
the admissibility rule in section 22A should provide an independent basis for admitting a defendant’s statement against a co-defendant, regardless of whether the statement is hearsay.
That is, even statements that are not hearsay will only be admissible if they fall under the co-conspirator exception. That high threshold of admissibility will follow, even when some non-hearsay co-defendant statements don’t warrant that high standard because they don’t prompt the same admissibility concerns. Instead, the bar is raised universally.
One of the few cases in which this whole schemozzle was discussed, broadly endorsed the Law Commission’s proposed solution as well: see R v Wellington  NZHC 2080 at . (Definitely worth reading it for the scholarship behind it and clarity of analysis, even though I don’t agree with all of it. Importantly, Palmer J suggests a way in which s 27 might be read in a way that works, although recognises it faces a “stiff interpretive challenge” (at ).)
Wait, don’t go! I mean, yes it looks bad if I’m disagreeing with the Law Commission. But hear me out.
The difference in approach is that the Law Commission treats co-defendant statements as evidence sui generis. But I don’t think they are (and I suspect this is the key point of disagreement). Co-defendant statements are a species of hearsay, both under the old law, and especially under the Evidence Act as they literally meet the definition (when tendered for the truth of their contents). They prompt special reliability concerns, but if you want to rely on them for the truth of their contents, well, that’s what the co-conspirator exception is for. Otherwise, there’s no need to treat them differently. When they’re not hearsay, they should be admissible.
And think about these things.
First, the Law Commission’s proposed position imposes a higher standard on non-hearsay co-defendants for no good normative reason. If you acknowledge that there are lesser reliability concerns with non-hearsay statements (which the Law Commission does), then changing the law to impose a uniform but higher standard on non-hearsay statements does not follow logically from the problem you have identified. Remember it is the Law Commission essentially proposing a change from the common law position which treated co-defendant statements as straightforwardly admissible when they were not relied on for the truth of their contents. I do not read the Law Commission proposal as giving any explanation as to why traditionally non-hearsay statements by co-defendants should have to jump through the requirements of the co-conspirator rule before they can be admitted. This is a significant change that renders prima facie inadmissible a large class of evidence that was admissible under the old law and practically is admissible now (eg. when you get the Dheil v Rs of this world and the courts just wave it on in). There is no particular harm that needs to be guarded against through a law change.
Second, the Law Commission’s approach is motivated by its assessment that all co-defendant statements have a much greater potential to be false or self-serving. But the s 22A approach already lets you look to non-hearsay co-defendant statements as part of the evidential matrix to determine whether a joint enterprise exists (see R v Messenger  NZCA 13,  3 NZLR 779 at  and R v Qiu  NZSC 51,  1 NZLR 1 at ). In other words you are allowed to look at the very evidence that the Law Commission has just increased the admissibility threshold for. It makes more sense to stick to the traditional route. We can be discerning about the reliability of co-defendant statements. If they are not relied on for the truth of their contents, then they don’t have the same reliability concerns. That lets us place weight on them when trying to figure out whether a joint enterprise existed. If, in combination with other evidence, we decide there is, and the other limbs of the s 22A test are met, then we can begin to admit that evidence for the truth of its contents.
Third, the Law Commission’s approach will drive the Crown into advancing the types of arguments all right-thinking people should run a mile from. That’s the R v Holtham 2 NZLR 758 (HC)and Preston vR  NZCA 568,  2 NZLR 358 type arguments about how something is not really a “statement” in a bid to get around these provisions.
The contortions parties will go to arguing over whether something is a “statement” will be to the overall detriment of the state of evidence law generally (and see R v Wellington at : “These are the sort of linguistic distinctions which can give legal analysis a bad name.”) The battleground should be hearsay/non-hearsay, not statement/non-statement.
Fourth, and last, why this change? The idea that a co-defendant’s non-hearsay statement is admissible is how everyone thought the Evidence Act did and should work for large periods of its existence. Goffe v R  NZCA 186,  2 NZLR 711 and R v Messenger and Dheil v R are examples of that. For years before s 22A, the system worked perfectly well in practice with the assumption that a non-hearsay co-defendant statement would be admissible. No particular instance of injustice has been identified. All that is identified (correctly, mind) is that the wording of the Evidence Act doesn’t let the legal system take an approach to the law that they thought was permitted. The solution to that is changing the Evidence Act to the way we think it works right now. That could be done by amending s 27(1) to say a co-defendant’s hearsay statement is inadmissible except through s 22A. That’s all we’d need to fix the problem the Law Commission identifies in the Act’s drafting, and bring the Act in line with present day practice.
Imagine if the Law Commission’s proposed change goes ahead. Under that scheme, if a defendant gives evidence in a trial – all of their statements (both in court and out of court) still aren’t admissible against a co-defendant unless they pass through the co-conspirator exception. But why? Why should they have to? They are available for cross-examination. The safeguards are there to prevent shifting the blame. The co-defendant can cross-examine that defendant all they like. The defendant is in the same position as any other witness. Even the Law Commission in its own words agrees the reliability concerns are considerably lessened. Why, then, should the Crown have to clear the high bar of s 22A to have that non-hearsay statement admitted?
Finally, on this topic, bear in mind the Supreme Court’s drive-by comments in Winter v R  NZSC 98 this month. It included a very pass-agg comment on the Law Commission’s proposed change, simply restricting itself to saying that (at ) “on the face of it, however, [the proposed amendment] would still not replicate the common law as explained in Messenger.” Now, whether that’s the judicial equivalent of an “Every day we stray further from God’s light” meme, I don’t know. But it serves to make the point, that the Law Commission’s solution seems to walk us further and further away from the common law position that is still being applied practically today. In the absence of a compelling reason not to, normalising the position on an understanding of current, seemingly effective practice makes more sense to me.
So, please, think carefully about the Law Commission’s recommendation on this one. My preferred amendment is that s 27(1) should say a co-defendant’s hearsay statement is inadmissible except through s 22A. That means that a non-hearsay co-defendant statement will be prima facie admissible, subject to any other section of the Evidence Act.
I genuinely freaking love the headlines on Jock Anderson’s lawyer profiles on the Law Society website. I don’t know whether he writes them, or an editor does. But whoever does takes a Go Big Or Go Home approach to jamming every interesting fact possible into a single sentence. The resulting foie gras headlines sit atop interviews where interesting lawyers doing interesting legal and non-legal work get asked what car they drive.
Next week the Auckland High Court gets rid of its Crown Room. The Crown Room is in the historic part of the courthouse on the upper level along the side of the building that faces Waterloo Quadrant. It’s an annex of rooms and corridors that were created in the late 80s from what used to be Courtroom 3 (and before that was a library). After that it was decided that you can’t improve on perfection. It hasn’t been touched since.
Two rooms at the west end are for the Police, these days used only by the officer assigned to the Court. Two austere rooms at the east end, ceded in the 2015 matrimonial property dispute to the Manukau Crown. And, in between, a small warren of rooms and a jury’s worth of furniture (in that there are twelve pieces that look like they’ve been chosen at random).
The days of the Crown needing so much space were gone long before I had the chance to set foot in it. Now the sprawl is luxurious in a building that needs to maximise space, and that’s why it has to go, I guess. But the room is a worn-down testament to law as it was; a time that I only get to know by listening to the quiet creak of the floorboards. The idea that as a young lawyer you walk in the same space as all the people that came before you, is one that I can’t stop turning over in my mind when I’m there.
As much as the law likes getting dressed up nicely, the Crown Room is the law’s last pair of comfy pyjama pants. Faded teal green carpet with a patch worn in the spot where thousands of feet have swivelled slightly in the same place as they turn a corner into a corridor. Office chairs that look like the victims of psychopathic chiropractors. Couches whose arms are grey with grime, and whose cushions started phoning it in in the late 90s, but are still somehow the comfiest couches known to humankind.
Like all communal spaces, if someone forgets something and leaves it behind, everyone else will assume it’s meant to be there. The Crown Room has had decades of practice at that. That’s why its decorations include a remote control snake with little wheels under its head, one abandoned double-breasted suit jacket the size of a parachute and, for reasons that continue to elude me, a framed group photo of Auckland High Court judges in their ceremonial reds at the swearing-in of Justice Temm.
In one dark, windowless room there’s a network server, little green lights flashing away like a droid in a Jawa sandcrawler. In a second is a doughty printer that has printed out thousands of last minute court documents, and next to it the world’s smallest stapler. A new coffee machine does its best to fit in by making terrible coffee.
And the remnants of history! An old set of drawers, one of which is labelled “drinks order forms”, leftover from the decades long gone when it was vital the Crown Room had to hand sufficient booze. A line of lockers with faded name labels: “S E Moore”, “M Woolford”, “C Gordon”. The unlocked door behind a file rack that lets you walk up the internal spiral staircase of the High Court tower – no handrails, dust-filled, steep and treacherous.
Even the absurdity of the place is dear to me. The combination lock on the door that had to be changed when someone lost a piece of paper that had on it both the combination and what the combination was for. The jar of biscuits that is only ever added to, never fully replaced, meaning the bottom half of the jar is a slowly composting melange of Hokey-Pokey Squiggles and Cameo Cremes. And the toilet where if you’re going standing up you have to make awkward eye contact through the event with a gargoyle outside who stares in the window.
I’m not sure what they’re turning it into – chambers, possibly, or meeting rooms. Something with nice carpet and sensible chairs, and double glazing and none of the things which make the space what it is: a place to sprawl hungover on a couch while someone else swears at the over-enthusiastic Zip water heater.
Soon the Crown Room will be gone. In a couple of weeks it won’t be there. A couple of decades after that and the only place you’ll find it is in a story I’m boring some young lawyer with.
Ah well, so it goes.
UPDATE: a reliable source tells me that the Crown Room will become chambers for Court of Appeal judges, who will sit in Courtroom 1 instead of the Lorne Street hearing centre. Goddard J, if you’re reading this, ask them to keep one of the couches for you!