A farewell to the Auckland High Court Crown Room

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!

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