MLAs ‘will oppose’ plans to close eight courts

It was confirmed this week that Lisburn Courthouse is to close
It was confirmed this week that Lisburn Courthouse is to close

The Justice Minister’s scrutiny committee will oppose any recommendations to close eight courthouses across Northern Ireland, it is reported.

The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) has proposed closing courthouses in Armagh, Ballymena, Enniskillen, Limavady, Lisburn, Magherafelt, Newtownards and Strabane, due to cutbacks.

However, the Department of Justice insisted that no decisions have been made and said it would make no further comment until after it had presented recommendations to the justice committee on Thursday.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis, who has worked in many of the courts as a barrister and is also a member of the committee, said MLAs on it had reached a clear consensus.

“There may be justification for closing two or three but the impact of so many closures will be severe and will in my view deny proper access to justice for many local people,” he said.

The committee was particularly concerned about the possibility of closures in Ballymena, Armagh and Lisburn, he said.

While the MLAs have no power to block any ministerial decision, he expects the minister, David Ford, to seek agreement with the committee.

He noted that there had been angry protests against closures at a number of the courthouses.

“The committee has discussed this previously and has been of one mind,” he added.

The chief executive of the Northern Ireland Courts Service, Ronnie Armour, this week confirmed plans to close Lisburn Courthouse.

But UUP MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Tom Elliott, said that Mr Ford had listened to the “strong” case to have Enniskillen Courthouse retained.

“The original proposal to close Enniskillen was totally unrealistic and I am glad that common sense has prevailed,” he said.

“I trust that the future of Enniskillen Courthouse can now be secured for many years to come.”

Independent Armagh councillor Paul Berry said he had been “reliably informed” that Armagh Courthouse and other courthouses are being recommended for closure to the justice committee.

Mr Berry said he was “totally disgusted by this news”.

NICTS has reported that Northern Ireland courts are empty almost half the time.