Not guilty, Your Honour / by Mario Mirabile

The somewhat dilapidated sandstone building at the corner of LaTrobe and Russell Streets served as Melbourne's Magistrate' Court from 1914 to 1995, when it moved to more spacious and salubrious quarters in William Street. Before that it housed the Victorian Supreme Court where Sir Redmond Barry sentenced Ned Kelly to hang. Dear Ned, of course, went on to become a folk hero, lauded in song, film and literature. For his trouble, Sir Redmond was commemorated with a grand statue in front of the State Library and a rather dull building at the University of Melbourne.

Conveniently located next to the Old Melbourne Gaol (where Ned was dispatched) and across the road from the old Russel Street police complex, the court hosted an endless steam of Melbourne's law breakers, from the notorious Squizzy Taylor to those who had neglected to pay their parking fines. The decoratively arched main entrance was a regular feature of the evening news, instantly recognizable unlike its successor which could pass for any city office building were it not for the nervous looking accused and occasional bewigged barrister gathered around the entrance. Even the holding cells with their ornately barred ground level windows speak of an era when the majesty of the law was put on show for all to see.

Today, it's seriously in need of  restoration. The sandstone is weathered, and having been built to withstand the fumes of the horse and buggy era, is badly stained by  more than 100 years of exhaust fumes. It serves as a tourist attraction and an administrative facility for RMIT University, so there's hope that someone will find the money to restore it to its former glory.