If the walls of the Auckland High Court could talk, imagine the stories they could tell.

Opened in 1868 the neo-Gothic heritage building is turning 150 and during its celebrations this month members of the public will have the opportunity to hear some of those stories, and to participate in the theatre of court, in a March 10 open day.

While New Zealand's principles of open justice mean people can observe proceedings in an open court anytime, next weekend people will have a chance to see a real rarity.

Members of the judiciary will don long-phased out white wigs, and formal robes, to perform a classic New Zealand 'whodunit' in a series of unscripted mock trials throughout the day.

Advertisement

The play is based on the 1930s double murder of Waikato couple Christobel and Samuel Lakey. Christobel's body was discovered on their farm face down in a lake while Samuel's incinerated bone fragments were later found in a garden.

Neighbour Bill Bayly was found guilty of their murders at an Auckland High Court trial, and was later hung for their deaths at Mount Eden.

Chief High Court Justice Geoffrey Venning along with Justices Simon Moore, Patricia Courtney and Kit Toogood will take on the roles of judges, presiding over three mock trial sessions, while Crown prosecutors Brian Dickey and Luke Raddich, and senior lawyers Ron Mansfield, and Queens Counsel Rachael Reed and Stuart Grieve will play defence lawyers.

Justice Rebecca Edwards was part of the team involved in the planning for the anniversary and told the Weekend Herald the celebrations were an opportunity to show the public how the wheels of justice turned.

Historical aerial view of Auckland Supreme Court (now Auckland High Court) and surrounding streets and buildings. Photo / File
Historical aerial view of Auckland Supreme Court (now Auckland High Court) and surrounding streets and buildings. Photo / File

"At the time (the Bayly trial) really captured the imagination of the population. It was your classic 'whodunit' and it had all the good ingredients of a criminal mystery so we thought it would be a really good visual one," she said.

"And obviously because it also is historic we (are) reflecting the history of the court but also representing part of the everyday business of the court.

"There is a sense of proceedings that goes around the delivery of justice. I'm hoping we might give (people) a sense of that sort of experience as well."

The public will have a chance to play the part of the defendant or take on the role of a juror and watch the Crown opening, and listen to evidence from real pathologists.

Advertisement
Auckland High Court on the corner of Waterloo Quadrant and Parliament street, Auckland. Photo / Nick Reed
Auckland High Court on the corner of Waterloo Quadrant and Parliament street, Auckland. Photo / Nick Reed

"So the public will see, I suppose, a little bit of the drama and see what it's like to be a member of the jury sitting there, listening to this evidence, knowing they will have to make a decision at the end of the trial as to the guilt or innocence of the person standing in the dock," Justice Edwards said.

Work started on the Auckland High Court, then known as the Supreme Court, in 1865 and was completed in 1867. Its first sitting was held in February 1868. Since then it has been modernised and extended and seen some of the country's most high profile cases - and people - within its walls.

In 1985, it held its first and only terrorism trial following the Rainbow Warrior bombing, and has held the murder trials of Antoine Dixon, Teina Pora - his charges were later overturned after a miscarriage of justice was declared - serial killer Hayden Poulter, rapist and murderer Tony Robertson, and alleged backpacker killer David Tamihere who returned last year for a private prosecution against one of the jailhouse witnesses in his case.

In 2008, South Auckland father Chris Kahui was acquitted of the deaths of his twin sons Chris and Cru Kahui after a trial at the court, and the Parliament St building saw scenes of tension during the 2015 murder trial of Michael Murray, who was convicted of killing Millie Holmes' boyfriend, Head Hunters associate Connor Morris.

Police leave the Auckland High Court during the Rainbow Warrior case on 7 July 1986. Photo / File
Police leave the Auckland High Court during the Rainbow Warrior case on 7 July 1986. Photo / File

Other notable cases include former Auckland mayor and Act leader John Banks' trial on false electoral declaration charges - later overturned - and where he was famously pelted with mud by a member of the public; Internet tycoon Kim Dotcom's extradition fight, and former Conservative party leader Colin Craig's defamation trial taken by Taxpayers Union director Jordan Williams.

Justice Edwards said she loved working at the High Court and hoped others would get a sense of the importance of the court's role in society.

"It is something very special to walk in and feel part of history and to feel at the very centre of the community as well. I think that's a very important thing," she said.

"I think people (will) get a sense of, this is actually about them, and the community, and the public. A lot of people when they get jury summons... it's a real inconvenience for them but a lot of jurors when they actually take part in it, they really do embrace the civic duty. It's the essential lifeblood of the criminal justice system so if people get a sense of that, that's all the better."

The Auckland High Court will open its doors from 10am to 4pm on March 10.