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The Criminal Courts of Justice

  • Architect:
    Henry J Lyons Architects
  • Award Type:
    Public Choice Award / Best Accessible Award 2010
  • Location: Dublin
The Criminal Courts of Justice

It was evident that universal design has been considered at all stages throughout the design and construction process. The building is easy to read and move around while at the same time taking into account onerous security measures and simplifying the complex circulation routes required for courthouse buildings. The quality of finish is excellent and attention has been paid to details, allowing for use by people of all ability. It is a worthy winner of this year’s RIAI Accessibility Award.

The Criminal Courts of Justice is the largest courts project undertaken in Ireland for over 200 years. Its 22 courtrooms and associated legal and administrative functions include a bespoke joinery fit-out incorporating the highest levels of technology.
Located at the eastern tip of the Phoenix Park, its siting continues the tradition of placing public buildings within sight of the River. The circular form gives equal weight to both city and park creating a more definitive threshold to both. Its simplicity and conviction gathers the disparate elements of the brief into a singular identity.

The simple form belies an inherent complexity. Segregating judicial, juror, public and custodial circulation systems is a significant challenge, while directing natural light to each of the courtrooms is a feat rarely achieved in multi-storey criminal court facilities.

The saw toothed glass facade expresses the double height courtrooms within. A perforated metal screen controls glare and maintains privacy. It becomes both an acoustic barrier and energy efficient double skin; creating varied shadow and visual interplay.

The ‘Great Hall’ is both the ‘physical and spiritual centre of the building’. A seven storey window draws in the Park, reinforcing the sense of place.  Volumetric simplicity promotes equality, dignity and respect.

The brief for the Criminal Courts of Justice required a functional modern courthouse that was also a landmark civic addition to the Dublin cityscape.  The design solution had to preserve four principal segregations – jury, judicial, custody and public – while getting natural light into all 22 courtrooms. In addition, it had to comply with stringent acoustic benchmarks for the courtroom and jury spaces and make the building universally accessible for all stakeholder groups.

It is a tribute to the design and construction teams that the completed building fully meets the complexity of the brief and during its first four months of operations has successfully dealt with the largest single transfer of criminal court business in the history of the State.

The Criminal Courts of Justice building will support the administration of justice in Ireland throughout this century and provides dignified and quality surroundings and facilities for the public, jurors and other court users.

As a major public facility, it was a prime objective to ensure the universal accessibility of the Criminal Courts of Justice. An independent three stage accessibility audit was carried out at the planning, detailed design and building handover stages of the project. This ensured a high quality and well planned facility with consideration given to all aspects of inclusive design. The access audit report assessed the building against both regulatory and best practice guidance documents.

Areas considered in the design include; set down and parking; access and entrances; surface textures, both internal and external; public counters; lighting; induction loops and tactile signage; corridor widths, seating and public safety; ironmongery and doors; ramps within court rooms, steps and handrails; accessible toilet facilities; passenger lifts, refuge call points as standard and the promotion of safe egress during fire evacuation.

The audit tested and passed the building on over two hundred individual assessment criteria. Noteworthy design features include achieving opening forces of 22N on large acoustic doors, infrared hearing devices within courtrooms (induction loops can be a security issue), colour contrasting and tactile signage to aid the visually impaired and full wheelchair accessibility despite the requirement for significant level variations within court rooms.