Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission assistant Louise Walton sat through every day of every hearing, swearing in each of the 291 witnesses. She tells The Star how she found the last year.
Q. What is your official position with the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission?
A. Hearings and commission assistant.
Q. What has your role been?
A. When I started at the commission in June last year one of my first tasks was to look for somewhere for the commission to hold hearings. We were very lucky to find St Teresa's church hall. Before we leased the building from the church it was used as a temporary classroom for St Mary's in the city. The hearings started on October 17, 2011. Since then my main job has been to keep time records for the Ministry of Justice transcribers who work offsite, and to help with the day-to-day running of the hearings.
Q. What have been your daily duties?
A. When I arrive at the hall first thing in the morning I double check the venue is set up for the day ahead and make myself aware of any last-minute changes to the programme. When people arrive I make them feel welcome. Some have been very nervous and others are very sad because they lost loved ones in the February 22 earthquake. Before the day's hearings begin, I give everyone a health and safety briefing and then bring the commissioners into the hearing room announcing "Silence, please all stand for the commissioners". I then take my seat, start recording the proceedings and swear in witnesses throughout the day. Once the hearing is over I announce the hearing is adjourned and tidy up the venue ready for the next day.
Q. Who have you worked closely with during the hearings?
A. I have worked closely with the legal analysts who plan the hearings and the hearing co-ordinator who has overall responsibility for running the hearings. I have also liaised with the commissioners regularly, ensuring they are happy with the housekeeping aspects of the hearings.
Q. What have you found the most difficult parts of your job?
A. The bereaved families have been very brave but listening to their stories has been hard at times.
Q. What have been the most positive things?
A. The information that will come out of these hearings will help in the future to make sure no other city has to go through what Christchurch went through over 2010 and 2011.
Q. Can you describe the mood inside for the most part? How much has it changed? What have been the most tense periods?
A. The mood of each hearing has been different, depending on the topic. Some days have been very sombre, but once everyone breaks for a cuppa and biscuits things change, we have been able to laugh but sometimes we cry.
Q. Have you listened to much of the evidence, or are you busy with other things. If not, how interesting has it been?
A. I listen to everything but some of it is very technical!
Q. What will you do now that the hearings have finished?
A. I will help with the decommissioning of St Teresa's hall, turning it back into a facility the church, St Teresa's school and other community groups can use. Then I will help close down the commission office once the final report has been delivered to the governor-general. After that I will return to my job at the Department of Internal Affairs.
Q. How will you look back on the last 11 months?
A. I will look back at the hearings with fond memories, particularly the amazing people I have met. I have been part of history and if I have been able to smile with someone and chat to them to make them feel more relaxed, I feel I have done a good job.
Q. Anything else you would like to add?
A. I feel very lucky to have been part of this commission. The experience I have gained, the friends I have made, will remain with me forever.