HISTORY OF COURTS IN SARAWAK
The history of the court buildings in Kuching could be traced back as far as 1847. It began with a two-storey wooden building that Rupe, a Lutheran Missionary, built to house a day school. It was situated at the present site of the Court House, Main Bazaar Road, Kuching. The school did not materialize because he had to leave for his home country, Germany. It was later taken over by Rajah James Brooke, who converted the existing classrooms into a court for the administration of justice.
During the first six years of Brooke’s reign, court proceedings were conducted at the Rajah’s residence, which is the present Astana Negeri (State Palace). When Dr. Francis Thomas McDougall, who later become the first Bishop of Borneo, arrived in June 1848, he and his family were permitted to stay at the upper portion of the building until the Bishop’s House was completed in 1849.
There were no other historical records on the original court building until the Insurrection of the Bau Gold Mine Chinese Kongsi in February 1857. Liu Shanbang, the leader of the Chinese Kongsi succeeded in capturing Kuching Town during the insurrection from 18 to 21 February 1857. Immediately after declaring himself king for the day on the Rajah’s seat in the said court, he ordered Brooke’s men to appear before him and report on Brooke’s position.
The said building was demolished in 1858 upon the instruction of the Tuan Muda Charles Brooke. After he was declared the Second Rajah in 1968, he directed that a new building be built to house other government offices under the same roof with the courts. It took seven years to complete due to shortage of building materials.
The Court House was officiated by Captain W.H. Rodway, the Acting Resident of Sarawak on 3 June 1874 at 11:00 A.M. The ceremony was preceded by a parade of Sarawak Rangers round Kuching town led by a band and finally graced with the Guards of Honour. The occasion coincided with the Second Rajah’s birthday.
The Court House was one of the most majestic buildings that had ever been built during Brooke’s era in Sarawak. The paneling of its courtroom ceiling bore Dayak motifs depicting the tradition of the folks from Baram who helped to design and complete it in 1951. There are huge tapering columns supporting the roof along the corridors. Its main entrance is guarded by a clock tower that was added to the building in 1883. It is supported by twin columns at each corner of the square corridor below it. The unique carvings on the railings of its balcony are believed to be of Roman influence. There used to be a small room in the tower where the Kuching Municipal Council often held its meetings. However, it was closed after the Second World War.
Adjacent to the building were the Resident’s Office, the Surveyor’s Office and the Government Printers Office. The Treasury Office, the Post Office, Audit Office and Shipping Office were located at the far end of the building towards Tun Haji Openg Road.
There were two other buildings making up the court complex at Main Bazaar Road. The building facing India Street is known as the Japanese Building. It was built and occupied by the Japanese during its occupation. It was renovated in recent times. It now looks like an arch linking the mall between Carpenter Street and India Street.
The building located at the end of the mall near to Tun Haji Openg Road is known as the Round Tower. It was built in 1886. It was meant to be a fort but its construction was halted. It was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. It was later used as a Dispensary until 1947, and as the Labour Office until 1980. The Subordinate Courts Registry was housed in that building until end of August 2000.
Towards the Sarawak River stood an obelisk that was built in 1942. It was unveiled on 16 October 1924 and named as the Charles Brooke Memorial, the Rajah who was said to have brought development to Sarawak.
The Court House had witnessed numerous historical events. The first building was almost razed down by fire during the Great Fire in Kuching town on 20 January 1844. The General Council (later referred to as the Council Negeri in 1903) held its meetings there from 1878 until 1973, commencing from its fifth meeting. It was later used as the Administrative Centre of the High Court of Borneo (now the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak). On 1 September 2000, the Court House was moved to a new Court Complex and operated at Jalan Gersik, Petra Jaya.
The Kuching Resident Magistrate also sits at the circuit stations namely in Bau and Lundu.
Further, Kota Samarahan Court is under the Kuching’s administration, which dealing with cases under the jurisdiction of Magistrates and Sessions Court. The resident officer also sits at the circuit stations in Serian and PATI Court, Semuja.