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Friday, Mar 31, 2023

Former Hong Kong courthouse to become centre for universal legal education

Former Hong Kong courthouse to become centre for universal legal education

Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention expresses confidence centre will be financially independent three years after opening in 2026.
A historic court building in Hong Kong will be revitalised in the next four years, with the site’s operator planning to reopen it as a centre offering universal legal education and conducting outreach efforts in the wider community.

The Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention on Friday expressed confidence that the centre could be financially independent three years after opening, predicting the building could draw 70,000 visitors during the first year of operations in 2026.

“Over the past half-century, the magistrate had reflected a societal role of judicial independence,” said Anthea Lee Shuk-wai, the society’s chief executive.

“We hope that, besides revitalising the building, we can also continue its function in society and demonstrate the judicial spirit.”

The organisation, which provides rehabilitation and services to those convicted of criminal offences, added that it planned to use the former courthouse to offer legal education to the public.

The centre hoped to use virtual and augmented reality technologies to give visitors a more immersive experience, while a cafe and restaurant would be located on the building’s ground floor, it added.

The former North Kowloon Magistracy in Sham Shui Po was built in 1960 and remained in use by the judiciary until 2005. The building was later included in the first phase of an initiative to conserve government-owned historic buildings by repurposing them for social enterprises.

The former courthouse was first revitalised in 2009, becoming a campus for the Savannah College of Arts & Design before the school ceased operating in the city in 2020.

The society said the past renovation had left most of the building’s exterior untouched, but the organisation hoped to reverse the substantial changes made to the interior.

Areas that would be changed included the second courtroom, which has been converted into a film studio, several holding cells that had been renovated into offices, and the layout for the third and fourth floors, it said.

“When we made our application, we already had a technical team and consultants to study the plans. It would not be difficult to complete the project in about 30 months,” Lee said.

The project is expected to cost around HK$160.5 million, including around HK$5 million in government funding required to maintain the social enterprise’s future operations.

The society also estimated that it could conduct annual outreach efforts encompassing 20 per cent of the city’s kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.

Patrick Li Hon-leung, a vice-president of the society and retired High Court judge, stressed that the main goal of the project was promoting legal education, calling it a “very important issue” following protests in 2014 and 2019.

“I won’t say we would make a lot of profit and I anticipate that there won’t be any profit, or maybe we will be making a loss,” he said.

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