Ireland Opens $200 Million Criminal Court Complex
(01/05/2010)

DUBLIN, Ireland — Irish court authorities unveiled a new $207 million national criminal court complex designed to centralize criminal justice processes, modernize facilities and expand capacity.

The 11-story Criminal Courts of Justice building houses 22 double-height courtrooms of various sizes and 26 judges chambers. It will eventually house the Court of Criminal Appeal, Special Criminal Court, Central Criminal Court, Circuit Criminal Court, District Courts and associated support facilities.

The criminal court building is the first courthouse in Ireland to incorporate separate access and segregated circulation designed to enhance the privacy, safety and security of court users. A horizontal and vertical circulation system prevents judges, lawyers, jurors, defendants, victims, witnesses and members of the public from crossing paths until they enter a courtroom.

Each of the 16 jury courtrooms and seven non-jury courtrooms is outfitted with enhanced security measures to protect participants in high-profile trials. The basement level of the main structure incorporates secure access for inmate transport and a series of underground holding cells for up to 100 offenders.

Courtrooms are outfitted with digital voice recording technology and equipped with electronic evidence display capabilities and also integrate video conferencing technology.

In addition, the complex features a dedicated victim-support facility with suites for vulnerable witnesses, victims and relatives. A playroom, designed in consultation with national children’s charity Barnardos, provides a direct video feed that will allow child witnesses to testify remotely in a safe, non-threatening environment.

The building provides modern juror facilities within a segregated area, including a secure reception area, assembly and deliberation rooms, dining facilities and several outdoor spaces.

The 247,000-square-foot complex also houses offices of the Irish Courts Service, the Bar Council, the public prosecutor, a law library, probation and welfare services and police, and provides dedicated facilities for lawyers and the media.

The new complex is the largest public building constructed in Ireland since 1922 and the largest single government investment in the court system since the James Gandon-designed Four Courts building was completed in 1796.

The Four Courts, which previously housed the Supreme Court and served as the capital’s main criminal court, will continue to handle constitutional and High Court civil cases.

The capital’s new landmark court structure, which was delivered via public-private partnership and completed several months ahead of schedule, was designed by local architectural firm Henry J. Lyons following an international design search. The design, construction, maintenance and provision of support facilities over the 28-year period of the PPP contract will cost taxpayers an estimated $450 million.

The building’s facade combines polished and textured natural stone finishes that soften the dominant glass and steel aesthetic of the exterior. A bronze screen that envelopes the main structure’s glass exterior functions as a brise soleil to filter and soften daylight as it enters courtrooms arrayed around the central space. The design team integrated indigenous natural materials and finishes throughout, including solid oak furniture and fittings, to soften and warm interior spaces.

The main structure is set back to create a large public plaza that draws court users to the public entrance and leads to a monumental hall that resembles Rome’s Pantheon in scale and recalls the great domed hall of its antecedent, the Four Courts. In anchoring the new structure, this easily accessible central vaulted space serves as the heart of the complex, directing public circulation to all points and levels of the facility.

The Courts Service of Ireland developed the complex, which has sufficient capacity to handle an annual caseload of more than 200,000 cases, to centralize the capital’s criminal justice proceedings. Prior to the opening of the new complex, Dublin’s criminal courts were scattered across several city center locations and struggled to accommodate the increasing caseload of recent years.

As part of the centralization of court facilities, the 1797 Green Street Courthouse, which sits across the river and is used as the Special Criminal Court for non-jury trials of suspected terrorists and organized crime kingpins, will serve as a High Court for civil business cases once criminal proceedings move to the new Criminal Courts of Justice.

A portion of the old building, which is listed as a national landmark — nationalist revolutionary Robert Emmet delivered his famous self-determination speech from the dock prior to his execution for treason in 1803 — could also be redeveloped as a museum.

In addition to a striking new landmark courts structure, the reorganization marks a new era criminal justice administration in Ireland, as court authorities introduced a system of court bailiffs dedicated solely to the supervision of juries. Previously, police officers were detailed to the protection and supervision of jurors to ensure sequestering and prevent tampering or intimidation.

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