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Sense of nostalgia for judges as State Courts move to new premises after 44 years

SINGAPORE — After 44 years and countless criminal and civil cases, judges and staff of the State Courts have bid farewell to their old building as they move into the new 35-storey State Courts Towers next door.

Justice See Kee Oon (centre), Presiding Judge of the State Courts, and Ms Jennifer Marie (right of Justice See), Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts, leading a procession out of the old State Courts building to the adjacent State Courts Towers, after a ceremony to mark the closing of the courthouse after 44 years.

Justice See Kee Oon (centre), Presiding Judge of the State Courts, and Ms Jennifer Marie (right of Justice See), Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts, leading a procession out of the old State Courts building to the adjacent State Courts Towers, after a ceremony to mark the closing of the courthouse after 44 years.

SINGAPORE — After 44 years and countless criminal and civil cases, judges and staff of the State Courts have bid farewell to their old building as they move into the new 35-storey State Courts Towers next door.

And while the modern new premises — comprising a court tower and an office tower — are well equipped to handle the rising number of cases, some in the legal fraternity including judges will miss the intimacy of the old building, which opened in September 1975.

Deputy Principal District Judge of the Civil Justice Division Wong Peck, who has been presiding over cases there for 16 years, told TODAY on Friday (Dec 13) that she will miss the “cosy” feel of the building, which allowed her to interact with her colleagues more easily.

“It’s the people that make the place. (The old State Courts building) is definitely more cosy, because it’s on a much smaller floor plate… Now we are spaced out in the new building.”

District Judge Wong was one of more than 400 judges and staff, as well as police, prison staff and lawyers, who attended a closing ceremony held at the old building on Friday.

Justice See Kee Oon, the Presiding Judge of the State Courts, said in a speech at the ceremony that the move was made to meet growing demand.

He said that when the building — then called the Subordinate Courts — was first operational in 1975, not all of its 26 courtrooms were needed.

“The situation rapidly changed, and we have had to construct additional courtrooms to cope with the increased caseload,” he said.

“It soon became clear that the existing infrastructure would not be enough to meet growing demand in the long term.”

Before 1975, the courts comprising the Subordinate Courts were housed in various dilapidated courthouses – prompting the Government’s decision in 1970 to build the new premises, which at the time dominated low-rise Chinatown.

One half of a pair of murals unveiled on Friday (Dec 13), comprising a collage of photos of the judges and staff depicting the new State Courts Towers, in the lobby of the new building. Photo Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

For District Judge Christopher Goh, the move from the old building carries with it a sense of nostalgia.

Given that the old State Courts building was only nine floors, he told TODAY that he had an easier time bumping to his colleagues along the corridors and starting conversations.

“Now we are all on separate floors, it’s more difficult to see each other,” said District Judge Goh, who spent 22 years in the old premises.

“(The State Courts Towers) is 35 floors, so the only way I get to meet my colleagues is at the lifts.”

Operations at the new State Courts Towers commenced in phases from Dec 9. They will be fully operational from Dec 16.

The new premises are fitted with 53 courtrooms and 54 hearing chambers — up from the 37 courtrooms and 40 chambers in the old building.

Justice See said in his speech that smart technology, as well as “process improvements” will feature in the new premises.

For example, a central registry on the second floor will act as a one-stop service centre for general inquiries and registry functions such as filing fresh appeals.

A business centre located on the same floor provides court users with facilities such as computers with internet access, printers and scanners so they can prepare their documents or file their claims.

The towers also feature the State Courts Heritage Gallery, which will be open to the public from Dec 16, where visitors can learn about the history of the State Courts.

Though District Judge Goh will miss the old building where many memories were forged and conversations struck, he believes that the time for change has been beckoning.

“There’s always a sense of nostalgia, but the (old State Courts) is actually falling to bits, the (infrastructure) cannot cope,” he said.

“This place is set up more for the future (and) next time it would be easier to fit in new technology (compared to) at the old building.”

Deputy Principal District Judge of the Civil Justice Division Wong Peck photographed outside the old State Courts building on Dec 13, 2019. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

Agreeing, District Judge Wong said: “What I look forward to (in the new building) is how we can utilise much more of the space in order to create better services for the court users, and it gives us a lot more potential, for example if you were to organise know-how events.

“These are very good spaces to come together to serve society as a whole.”

The State Courts comprise the District Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, Coroners’ Court, Small Claims Tribunals, Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals and Employment Claims Tribunals.

The State Courts building received conservation status in July 2013 and will be retrofitted to house the Family Justice Courts.

The new State Courts Towers looming above the old State Courts building in Havelock Square, photographed on Dec 6, 2019. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

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