The Government is yet to decide what to do about Rotorua's faulty courthouses, a year after refurbishments were due to start.
Documents released to the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act show concept plans for a four-year, $85 million to $110m upgrade of the District Court and High Court, and neighbouring Hauora House where the Māori Land Court operates, were still being finalised in May this year.
Planning started in 2017 and at least $2m has spent on scoping and design of the refurbishment but the Ministry of Justice is still considering a total rebuild from scratch.
One of the released documents, warns refurbishing the buildings while trying to run hearings would create "high risks" of court schedule disruptions, asbestos issues and people escaping from custody.
Another report from the project committee states Hauora House's fire protection, plumbing and electrical systems do not meet the current building code.
It "narrowly avoids being classified as an earthquake-prone building" and is "one of the most under-invested buildings in the ministry property portfolio".
The report also refers to assessments completed by Opus, showing the northern wing of the courthouse next door sits at just 30 per cent of national building standards, meaning it has 10 to 25 times the risk in an earthquake, relative to a new building.
It says the District Court and High Courts are among the busiest in the country, but "the ongoing health, safety and security risk is not acceptable to the ministry".
The building is in such poor condition the Ministry of Justice expects to find leaks on rainy days, the report states.
And there are leaks, reporters have witnessed.
On a wet afternoon five months ago peers waited to congratulate their friend and colleague Jonathan Temm, for being sworn in as the first Rotorua-based QC in about 25 years.
Suddenly about half a cup of water trickled out of a ceiling vent and on to the edge of the lacy table cloth, narrowly missing the afternoon tea in the top-floor room.
"Just another day in the Rotorua District Court," a lawyer quipped.
On that day there were at least three leaks through the courthouse roof and parts of the stairwell had to be shut off.
The committee report acknowledges the leaks, admitting leaks in the dual courthouse have led to files being damaged by water and damp, and the closure of some facilities.
One of the worst examples was in September 2017 when a leak in the centre of the building led to the temporary closure of the audio-visual link instruction suite, the judicial common room and a storeroom.
The staff tearoom is next to cells, which has led to breaches of privacy, and bailed prisoners exit around the judge's car parking, which is meant to be "secure".
"The Department of Corrections advise the risk levels are currently estimated as extreme," the report says.
"There is overcrowding in the existing cells" and no "designated search area" to check for "materials that might be used to cause harm in cells", it says, as well as difficulties separating genders, youth, and people from opposing gangs.
Meanwhile, at Hauora House, where the Māori Land Court is based, accessibility for those with disabilities is "poor" and "problematic".
The air conditioning on two of the four floors hasn't worked since 2013, something the ministry deems "a significant health and safety matter".
The report ruled neither building was fit-for-purpose and working conditions were poor.
Rotorua lawyers have expressed frustration for years about the courthouses both hindering and delaying justice.
Defence lawyer and Law Society member Tim Braithwaite has taken part in the Ministry of Justice's upgrade consultation.
He told the Rotorua Daily Post the prolonged wait for adequate facilities was letting down all court users, particularly staff who were there full-time.
"The upgrades were overdue when the project started in 2017, so to see no change three years later is causing widespread frustration."
He hoped a total rebuild was on the way.
"The demand for court facilities in Rotorua isn't going away, so a fit-for-purpose rebuild is money well spent, and the sooner the better."
Rotorua defence lawyer and former Crown prosecutor Ngaroma Tahana said: "It's a shame that it's taking this long."
The newly-released Ministry of Justice reports, detailing the extent of the Rotorua building problems, "most definitely" backed up her observations over recent years, she said.
In her opinion, starting from scratch would be a "much better and more sustainable option" than a "band-aid fix" and a new build would also "open up possibilities of a private-public partnership with iwi".
Public Service Association national secretary Glenn Barclay said: "The justice system should be safe and accessible for both staff and the public."
"Right now, Rotorua District Court is clearly neither of those things."
"PSA members do everything they can to make the best of a bad situation," he added.
"This rebuild is an urgent priority, and the project must be allocated the resources it needs to make it happen as soon as possible."
The Ministry of Justice's property general manager Fraser Gibbs said planning for an upgrade was "still in the early stages and is still subject to consultation and approval".
The ministry was "considering a number of options" he said.
When asked why a new $100m upgrade of the Tauranga courthouse had been prioritised over an upgrade of Rotorua's facilities, Gibbs said the Tauranga project was being used as "a benchmark".
But he agreed there was a need for "major property works in Papakura, Waitākere, Hutt Valley and Rotorua plus a raft of improvements at other sites around New Zealand".
What judges say
The Rotorua Daily Post has also obtained memorandums from Rotorua judges who wrote their concerns about the city's court buildings down in 2018.
Justice Sarah Katz said there was "a desperate need" for further courtrooms.
"The Rotorua High Court is the only jury-capable High Court courtroom in the Bay of Plenty," she said.
At that time it was booked out for 15 months despite the transfer of 22 weeks' worth of Bay of Plenty hearings to the Hamilton High Court.
"Unfortunately the Bay of Plenty appears to be facing a significant growth in serious crime."
Katz said gang-related crime was contributing to the "significant number" of trials with multiple defendants at a time, and the High Court needed larger docks to accommodate them.
She said "sufficient bench space" was needed for defence lawyers during such trials.
"A recent gang trial I conducted in Rotorua involved 12 counsel."
Judge Maree MacKenzie wrote "in practical terms, there is no security screening" for the Family Courts, because they were accessed via a separate entrance on Arawa St, and the safety issue needed addressing.
She highlighted court scheduling problems in Rotorua were caused by the fact "there are four full-time criminal judges, yet three courtrooms available to us on a full-time basis".
"Similarly there are two Family Court judges, yet only one courtroom available."