Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (20 May) . . Page.. 373 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (11.23): Mr Speaker, Mr Osborne has raised, I believe, some very pertinent arguments in respect of the question of the coat of arms that ought to be borne on the Territory's court buildings - in particular, the most important of those court buildings, the Supreme Court building. Members will be aware, when they travel to Knowles Place on the other side of City Hill, that our Supreme Court building is a quite impressive structure. It is covered in what I assume is some sort of marble and has over the main entrance a very large gold coloured metal Commonwealth coat of arms.
The question has arisen in respect of that coat of arms: Ought the Commonwealth coat of arms continue to preside over a building which is now owned by and funded by - that is, maintained by - the ACT community and whose servants within - that is, the judges - are tasked primarily with the administration or the interpretation of laws of the Australian Capital Territory? That is not to say, of course, that there are not other laws that they also administer - common law in particular - but they have a primary responsibility, one might say, for the administration of the laws of the Territory. So, Mr Speaker, the question Mr Osborne has placed before the Assembly is a very good question: Why should the Commonwealth coat of arms preside over that building?
Not only does the Commonwealth coat of arms appear at the entrance to the building; but it also appears above the bench in each of the five or six courts in that building. So, as one stands and faces the bench - whether one is a lawyer, a defendant in the dock, a party or a member of the public in the gallery - one sees the Commonwealth coat of arms flying, as it were, very prominently over the bench. I think, Mr Speaker, there is a very real question about whether, in those circumstances, the Commonwealth might be assumed to be playing some role in the operation of the court which it does not, in fact, play.
This separation of the ACT's court system from the Commonwealth obviously began when the ACT was granted self-government in 1989. At that stage, it could truly be said that the ACT was only partly a jurisdiction for such purposes in its own right. The Supreme Court passed from the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth to that of the ACT in a full sense in 1991. The court then became the ACT's court of superior jurisdiction and the superior division of the third arm of government, and I will come back to that point in a moment.
Historically, of course, the coat of arms reflects the original builder of the building and the role that the Supreme Court played as the Supreme Court of a Commonwealth Territory. Mr Speaker, I might say that that historical connection is, of course, quite noticeable, not just in our Supreme Court but in the courts of jurisdictions across the country. There are many courts, for example, that still bear an imperial coat of arms, reflecting their original role as courts directly responsible to the Crown of the United Kingdom. I do not think that these days any such coats of arms are installed over such courts or such buildings; but certainly they are retained where they already exist in many cases because of the early history of the courts concerned.