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Public jury 'must decide' on court

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The government's contested plans for a new Supreme Court must include a citizens' jury to decide whether to commission a bespoke building, a leading think tank said this week.

The IPPR has called on the government to appoint 12 random members of the public to decide between refurbishment of an existing building or construction of a new one.

The government is determined to push through its plans for constitutional reform, despite suffering a setback in the House of Lords earlier this week. Between £2 million and £32 million has been earmarked for a new home for the court by Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor. And Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, in a rousing speech at Cambridge University last week, demanded a purpose-built home with a budget of £50 million.

The government, however, has yet to decide if it will acquire space within an existing prestigious building - such as Somerset House or Middlesex Guildhall - or begin afresh. Controversy surrounding the Dome fiasco and Scottish Parliament cost overruns could explain its reticence.

IPPR's senior researcher Ben Rogers insisted the people should decide:

'This is a classic case where the government should be imaginative about engaging public opinion. The citizens' jury should act like a regular jury, hearing evidence for and against a building as well as cost considerations.

'The government should take account of what they say, ' he insisted. 'It would diffuse criticism from the tabloid press if we can say we have explained the case for it and the people have chosen.'

Tory peer Lord Lucas told the AJ any new court would need adequate space in a bespoke building and the budget to deliver it.

'If we get a new Supreme Court it will be a very important part of the state in the wider sense and if we don't have a separate building it will look as if it's not been given any status at all. It's vital that things that are important look important. We don't have that many opportunities to create great new civic buildings.'

And RIBA president George Ferguson said the key to avoiding another Holyrood debacle was to ensure there was a proper programme and brief from the outset, driven from the top with a clear client.

Rogers insisted the building should be open and transparent: 'I think people are much less willing to give public institutions the benefit of the doubt than they were. Public institutions have got to be constantly in the business of winning people over. Architecture helps the political process to become legible. It allows people to relate to the democratic process and communicates political ideas to them.'

However, a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said there were no plans to use such an examination in public: 'The public will have their say through the ballot box, ' he said.

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