Four Courts overhaul plan sets out vision for city-centre ‘legal campus’

Proposals include dedicated Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court: a new master plan recommends an overhaul of the city centre Four Courts site. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Supreme Court: a new master plan recommends an overhaul of the city centre Four Courts site. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien




A newly designed “legal campus” with a landmark Supreme Court building is envisaged in long-term plans for the redevelopment of the Four Courts complex in Dublin.

The master plan recommends an overhaul of the city centre site, including the demolition of at least one building and the centralisation of all civil courts in one location.

Highlighting the “run-down, ad hoc and cramped” environment in the Four Courts, it outlines plans to “enhance and underpin the historic, civic and iconic status” of the site as “the focal point for the administration of justice in Ireland”.

A central feature of the plan is the demolition of the “dated and featureless” Áras Uí Dhálaigh, a red-brick 1980s building in the southwest quadrant of the complex, and the construction in its place of a dedicated Supreme Court building “worthy and reflective of the national and civic status bestowed on it”.

The proposals were first set out in a confidential report submitted to the Department of Justice by the Courts Service, in collaboration with the Office of Public Works, in 2009. It did not proceed any further at that stage, but it is understood plans for the first stage of the scheme are being pursued.

This involves the construction of a new building on a derelict site at Hammond Lane, adjoining the Four Courts, that would house the family courts and the Courts Service headquarters. The Courts Service is currently based in nearby Phoenix House, a privately owned office block it occupies under a long-term lease.

The 2009 document, which roughly coincided with the completion of the Criminal Courts of Justice on Parkgate Street in Dublin, set out a “long-term strategic vision” for a single civil and family courts campus at the Four Courts.

It outlined six options, ranging from retaining the status quo to developing a new campus at an alternative city-centre site, before coming down in favour of centralising all court and court-related functions at the Four Courts and a new facility at Hammond Lane.

“The option would substantially achieve all project objectives, and do so at a cost lower than all alternative realistic options that address the needs comprehensively,” it states. The estimated cost is not included in the copy seen by The Irish Times.

The chief limitations and deficiencies with the current Four Courts complex, the report states, include an insufficient number of courtrooms for current and future volumes of business, the ad-hoc layout and the absence of a single civil and family law office.

It also points to the “poor condition, insufficient scale or in cases total absence” of appropriate space for many court users, including members of the judiciary, staff, lawyers and the public.

The report followed a strategic study by the OPW which examined the scope to develop the Four Courts as a single civil courts complex. That study proposed a new campus-style layout with quads and arcaded links, and where all new buildings would draw their inspiration from the example of the Four Courts building – designed by James Gandon – but in a “contemporary idiom”.