Minister confirms court closures
Four court facilities across Northern Ireland are to close, the Justice Minister has confirmed.
David Ford said courthouses in Bangor and Larne would be shut by next April with facilities in Magherafelt and Limavady to be closed a year later. A decision on the future of Strabane courthouse will not be taken until a review of the Justice Department's estate has been completed.
The minister added: "The closure of four of the hearing centres and the transfer of that business to larger court centres will deliver some modest savings but will, in general, afford court users, including victims and witnesses, a higher standard of accommodation and facilities.
"These closures mark a first step towards achieving better utilisation across a more consolidated and better equipped court estate."
Mr Ford went on to say: "I have listened carefully to the points made by consultees and I recognise the convenience of having local court facilities. However, it remains the case that, in general, the hearing centres are among the smallest and least well equipped venues within the court estate.
"I am satisfied that the level of accommodation and facilities available at Strabane are of a higher standard than the other hearing centres and that it should be retained. Strabane's longer term future will be considered as part of a Departmental Estate Strategy."
The possibility of using property owned by Larne Borough Council for a number of court hearings in Co Antrim is being explored.
Meanwhile, during a meeting of the Justice Committee at Stormont on Thursday, MLAs voiced their opposition to the closures.
Alban Maginness, SDLP MLA for north Belfast, who is a trained barrister, called for the plans to be shelved. He added: "It seems to me there are no real savings to be made. They are not great, quite minimal. There will be a lot of disruption for ordinary people."
DUP committee chairman Paul Givan said: "Collectively the committee expresses that we believe these decisions to close these hearing centres are premature and should be considered as part of an overall justice estates review."