Campaigners battling to save a hospital ward in Co Down have won a High Court declaration that its closure was unlawful.
But a judge refused to order that the 20-bed unit at Bangor Community Hospital be reopened.
Legal action was launched following the closure of the GP ward late last year.
The decision, described as temporary, was taken as part of wider NHS budget cuts.
One of those who uses the hospital, Bangor woman Eleanor Wilson, issued judicial review proceedings in a bid to have the move reversed.
Ms Wilson's legal team argued that no public consultation was carried out.
Lawyers for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust contended that it was under no such duty because it was a temporary shutdown.
But that position changed just before the case was due to be heard in full yesterday.
Mr Justice Treacy was able to make a declaration that the closure of the hospital's inpatient ward was unlawful due to a lack of consultation.
But with that process now under way, he declined to direct its immediate reopening.
Ms Wilson's solicitor, Gary Adair of Wilson Nesbitt law firm, said: "Our clients are delighted the judge decided the closure of the GP ward at Bangor Hospital was unlawful.
"They are disappointed that the local health and social services trust are not responding to that by reopening the hospital."
North Down MLA Steven Agnew paid tribute to the dedication and tenacity of the campaigners. "I am delighted that the campaigners have been vindicated by Justice Treacy, who has confirmed that the closure of the GP ward at Bangor Community Hospital was unlawful," he said.
"I have met the Health Minister to highlight the importance of this unit to Bangor, and I will continue to press him to reopen the ward."
Campaigner Cecil Wilson said that the fight to keep the 20-bed unit open would continue.
He called on the community to take part in the current consultation process.
"We need to keep the pressure on," he said."We haven't gone away, you know!"Background
Bangor Community Hospital was opened in 1998 by Councillor Marion Smith. She still serves on the council, and is now fighting to save the facility she opened. Plans to close the hospital's Minor Injuries Unit were overruled by Health Minister Jim Wells following public pressure. Now, Ms Smith is calling on him to save the inpatient ward, too.