Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Fury at £120,000 revamp for court earmarked to shut

A courthouse earmarked for closure by the Court Service had a £120,000 refurbishment less than a year ago.

A councillor said the money spent on Strabane Court to upgrade security, refurbish holding cells and redecorate “defies logic”, given that it is one of the five courts whose economic viability is currently under consideration.

Security upgrades costing £100,000, refurbishment of holding cells costing £18,000 and £5,000 redecorating costs were incurred in the renovation.

Strabane district councillor Karina Carlin, who is also a solicitor, said the spend “beggars belief”.

She suggested it was a cynical move by the Court Service to secure a building it intends to close.

The Sinn Fein councillor said: “The Court Service launched a consultation process in respect of the five courts they propose to close including Strabane, but I am convinced this is a paper exercise and they have no intention of keeping Strabane court open.

“Spending this amount of money on a building they propose to close defies logic, which begs the question was there an alternative reason?

“If they push ahead with the closure and I believe this was their intention from the outset,

they will need to secure the building and this is what I think was behind spending £100,000 on upgrading security. Otherwise it just beggars belief.

“They have not made any serious attempt to inform people, they have not written to Strabane Solicitors Association, Legal Aid or Woman's Aid about this and there seems to be a dearth of information. They also cite savings of £140,000 by closing Strabane but I do not accept this figure.

“This cannot take into account staff salaries because those staff will be deployed elsewhere, and by moving Strabane cases to Omagh it will not save money but will have an adverse affect on the court users, people who typically are not wealthy but who will not have added stresses to what is already a stressful situation for them.

“People don't see court as an essential service but of course it is.”

A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland Court Service said: “The security works carried out at Strabane Courthouse were considered essential and while they were substantively completed by November 2011, work commenced on site in May 2011.

“This security work is not included in the estimated saving in annual operating costs. The projected savings figure of £141,000 relates only to ongoing or recurring costs such as on-site security staff, utility charges and building maintenance.”

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