WHEN the Highland Council approved plans for a new justice centre in Inverness earlier this year justice secretary Michael Matheson hailed the news by saying the building will “deliver a truly 21st century service”.

“It reflects the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver a justice system that is accessible, modern and fit-for-purpose,” he added.

Yet for Professor Johnny Rodger of Glasgow School of Art the construction of the new centre, which is due to open in 2019, represents a missed opportunity in terms of creating something that is representative of what justice means to the people of Scotland.

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Having co-authored a book - The Spaces of Justice – that examines how the architecture of public buildings embodies societal values, Mr Rodger said there are two main considerations that should be taken into account when constructing buildings that play such an important role in the civic life of the country.

Mr Rodger said that for his co-author, Professor Peter Robson of the University of Strathclyde, “what’s important is how the building affects the making and execution of law”.

“For me, it’s about what the spaces say and how they can be good for democratic purposes,” he added.

In order to fully consider both aspects, he said, it is vital to consult widely with the community about how these spaces should be designed, something that did not happen in the case of the Inverness centre.

“With things like PFI you appoint a contractor then they appoint their own architect, who works for them - it’s not design led,” Mr Rodger said. “Reiach and Hall from Edinburgh are doing the Inverness one and as it happens they are top architects and will do a great job within the remit, but it’s still not design led.

“There’s been no discussion here, no public consultation.”

Although work has already begun on the Inverness building, Mr Rodger believes the opportunity exists to have an impact on the other justice centres that are due to be built across the country in the coming years.

Following a 2009 review carried out by then Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill, who said that due to the architecture of its court houses Scotland still operated a Victorian justice system, the Government took the decision to rationalise the court estate.

Since then Sherriff Courts in towns including Dornoch, Duns, Peebles, Rothesay and Stonehaven have closed, with plans in place to follow the Inverness justice centre with others in a number of locations across the country.

The first of these are expected to be built in Airdrie and Kirkcaldy. As they have not yet reached the stage of being put out to tender, Mr Rodger said Scotland should follow the example of countries like France and the US by consulting the public about how they should be designed.

“Richard Rogers did the Bordeaux court and there was a lot of discussion about what the court should be like,” Mr Rodger said.

“The US is a great example because they set up lots of conferences and a journal just about court design.

“[They asked] should they be light or dark? Should they remind you of prison and punishment or should they remind you of life?

“Richard Rogers said there should be transparency in justice. Jean Nouvel, who did the courthouse in Nantes, said there’s a difference between the transparency of justice and buildings. He said you shouldn’t be sentimental about law because it’s a severe and difficult and hard thing.”

Mr Rodger is seeking to replicate that process in Scotland before any more justice centres are planned and is bringing together a range of speakers for a symposium on the issue to take place at the Art School later this month.

“Let’s have the big discussion with architects, with civic bodies, with the public,” Mr Rodger said.

“The idea is to do what was done in the US and France. We want to set a ball rolling and to have a big discussion including as many people from Scottish civic, economic, and political life as possible because it’s really important.

“It’s the law of the country and it’s a fundamental part of our democracy.”