Work on the new State Courts complex, which will be thrice as big as its current building, will start next month, following its groundbreaking ceremony yesterday.
Made up of two interconnected towers that will rise behind the existing octagonal-shaped courts, the new courthouse will have no outer walls: instead, court rooms will sit on open-air platforms surrounded by greenery such as a roof garden.
"Standing as a modern contrast to the 'octagon', the new tower complex... is a powerful metaphor for the openness, transparency and impartiality of the judicial process," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the ceremony.
"This design intent aims to translate the vision of the State Courts, which is to inspire public trust and confidence through an effective and accessible justice system, into a physical representation."
Having a new building will expand the the State Courts' physical capacity to meet growing demand for court services, said Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon, Presiding Judge of the State Courts.
The expansion of capacity can be done without interrupting its day-to-day functioning, unlike an "expensive and time-consuming" overhaul of the current building, he added.
The number of court rooms available for both civil and criminal cases will increase from 40 to more than 60 when the new complex opens in 2019.
The number of hearing chambers will also nearly double from 28 to more than 50. In all, the new complex will be thrice larger than the current courts.
But the additional court rooms should not result in cases being rushed, said lawyer Chia Boon Teck.
"I hope we will not have a situation where the ready availability of the court rooms and the judges results in litigants being hurried and pressurised to present their cases without regard for their lawyer's tight schedule, readiness or availability," he said.
Lawyers told The Straits Times they hope the new courthouse will have court rooms of different sizes to suit a variety of case needs. They also hope it will have better technological and physical links.
"One common problem is the morning rush: with all the mentions and pre-trial conferences, there are only two available lifts for both the public and lawyers," said criminal lawyer Josephus Tan of the current State Court premises.
"Another problem is that while serious and sombre, many of the court rooms are too spacious and to an extent, under-utilised." How the current courthouse will be used from 2019 is something that is being discussed, said a State Courts spokesman. It was previously slated to house the civil, family and juvenile courts.
The current courthouse, which has been in use for nearly 40 years, has already been marked for conservation.
This article was first published on May 29, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.