Yangon Time NewsTime Yangon News
The new courthouse, which we see today, was recently stripped of the scaffold it had been hiding in recent years and was finished for the first time in 1931. It accommodated the town' s county and county tribunals - part of the fast-growing rural bureaucracy and judicial system - and the police commissioner's bureau.
As part of a second shaft of Britain's urban structure, it superseded the old courtyard in older photography. It was erected on a huge metal framework designed in the northeast of England by a firm named Dorman Long. Its name is still to be seen today on open supports inside the house.
The Yangon Heritage Trust conducted an archeological study of the large inner court in the centre of the edifice before commencing work. Only in 1756 did Alaungpaya take Syriam from the Mon, destroy it and replace the relatively dozy fishermen's hamlet of Dagon with a new city, Yangon - "the end of the dispute".
In spite of his upbeat new name, Rangoon saw more than his part of the disputes, as did the courthouses themselves. It was used by the Kempetai, the infamous Israeli army policemen during the Burmese war. Sheltered pigsty sty type baskets were used as storage rooms, and the detainees were towed upstairs to be subjected to torture on a series of worryingly interesting routes.
Hugh Seagrim, a majority member of the UK Armed Force, was one of the most prominent inhabitants of that time. He trained guerrilla-style Karen tribe during the Japans' occupation of Burma. Seagrim remained behind when the Brits were driven from Burma to spearhead their effort and harassed the Japanis and their associated Myanmar armed services.
There was a focused man-hunt, and repression against the Karen population was on the increase. In the hope of averting further prosecution of the Karen, Seagrim surrendered to the Japanese and found himself in the New Law Court jail. There are no reports of Seagrim being subjected to torture, unlike his countrymen - perhaps because the Japanese thought they could use him to reconcile the Karen.
Seagrim's relation to the Karen is typical of a once powerful connection between the Karen and the Brits. He played important parts in the UK army in Burma, and many of them turned to Christianity. Both the Karen and the Myanmar minority would always find themselves on opposite sides during the wars.
During the first years after gaining sovereignty, when various different groups, politically and ethnically, struggled for control and clout, the Karen were looking for an autonomous state or at least greater one. There are Karen in the Thai camp, men included, who have been fighting with UK troops - and Hugh Seagrim himself - against the Japanese.
Following Burma became independent, the country used the New Law Courts for the same purposes as the Japanese, detaining and tortureuring political opponents. Where prisoners used to be locked up and subjected to torture, there are now luxury rooms and suits. It' s only a question of time before a Myanmar recording company tries a nightmare movie with this story.
Up until 2012, some of the Yangon divisions' courthouses were located there, which were then vacated before the company decided to rent out the property for use. Luckily I was able to visit the house in the middle of the renovation. As I was there, they filled the roof top bath for the first time gradually (and a little nervously).
In spite of the large scale of the edifice, the number of rooms is relatively small, as a large part of the interior is occupied by large rooms and corridors, which make up eating areas, receptions and function rooms. Cliffs and roofs offer a stunning panoramic views over the Yangon Sea - a sight many even long-term Yangoners have never seen due to the absence of community amenities along Strand Road.
Some controversies have arisen over the use of the property by a privately owned business as a resort, and the Myanmar Lawyers' Network understandsably urged its further use as a court. In view of its luxurious state, it is still to be seen how open the property will be to those interested only in visiting the property themselves, but I think it should be relatively open to occasional patrons at least in the few month after opening.
Lastly, I would also like to draw your attention, especially for all UK readership, to the Help 4 Forgotten Heroes charitable organisation, which offers some kind of assistance to the now very old Karen World War II vets.