The former Napier Courthouse is a timber framed structure clad with weatherboards; it has a roof structure support by heavy timber trusses with galvanised iron sheathing, and it is set on timber pile foundations. It is a two-storied building characterised by the use of simple classical elements for timber construction and is a fine example of colonial public architecture of the 1870’s.
The Napier Courthouse was designed as a Supreme Court House but it was used by the Justice Department to house a variety of services throughout the period 1875 to 1988. It was the centre of Justice in Hawke’s Bay. The police, the Registrar of Pensions, the births, Deaths, and Marriages department, the Bailiff, Lawyers, the Magistrate’s Court, the Maori Land Court, the Law Library, the Law Society, and the Custodian were all accommodated in, or closely associated with, the Courthouse at different times.
The building is a category 1 classification under the Historic Places Act 1993. This is the highest level of recognition under the Act, and ensures the building's protection.
Photograph by Pam Bain