As you enter there is a friendly Guide to explain where the three courts are situated and detail the exhibitions that are currently on display. Although there were no court sittings booked for the day I went, they are open for people to walk in and listen to. With an eclectic mix of history, exhibitions, law, art and architecture, the High Court of Australia is an interesting surprise.
With large foyer, ramps and levels there is a lot to explore.
There is an educational DVD to watch, explaining how the judicial system works. The High Court is the very last resort for people who have appealed their cases at lower courts around Australia. This court can hear a variety of cases from compensation claims and copyright arguments to criminal appeals, which makes it an eventful place to visit when the court is in session.
There are knowledgeable Guides at every court room and level who can answer your questions. The High Court was established in 1903 and the three Justices at the time had to travel from state to state to hear the cases in the Supreme Courts. The High Court of Australia was built in 1980 and now all the cases can be heard in the one location.
Court Room 1 was the biggest of them all, with seven Justices that sit over the court. As the Guide explained, all seven Justices (or "The Full Bench") make their own judgement at the end of each case, then the majority vote rules.
With floor to ceiling wood panelling for sound proofing, the court rooms are impressive in themselves.
In Courtroom 2, five of the full bench Justices sit for smaller cases, and Courtroom 3 (closed during my visit) is for cases that just require one Justice.
On the week day I visited there were school groups receiving tours and you are welcomed to sit at the back and listen as well. There is a lot of history to cover from 1903, including learning about the first three Justices – including ex Prime Minister Sir Edward Barton.
The building itself is a labyrinth of ramps and levels, with striking art to catch your attention. As you enter the Court, the Guide provides you with a brochure explaining the artworks in the building if you would like to learn more.
The Court also has exhibitions in the Public Hall, near the foyer as you walk in. During my visit there was a Magna Carta display, celebrating 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta laws, with a replica on display.
The Magna Carta display which finishes the end of June, 2015.
The Court sits for two weeks a month (except for January and July) with court sitting times between 10:15am to 12:45pm and 2:15pm to 4:15pm. Check their website for the court calendar if you would like to watch the court in action.
There are a few rules of etiquette if you go to watch a case at The High Court. It is important to be silent and to remain in the courtroom for at least 10 minutes so there are not people constantly coming and going. They do not recommend taking babies or small children into the court sittings, as they require a silent gallery. They also request no mobile phones, electronic equipment or newspapers or documents that can rustle. A historical custom they still use is to bow upon entry and exit to the Courtroom when the court is in session, to show your respect.
If you have an hour or so free in your visits to Canberra's Museums and Galleries, be sure to allocate some time to The High Court of Australia. Located between the National Gallery and The Portrait Gallery it is a handy location to visit in between.
Although this experience may not sound interesting to some, it is surprising how this building and history of the Court will capture your interest as you wander around. With real court sittings, people with an interest in law will find it fascinating.
"The High Court of Australia" - an unexpected tourist attraction in Canberra's Parliamentary Triangle.
Although you can't take small children into the court sittings, they will enjoy the ramps!