The public will not realise the impact of the closure of Magherafelt Courthouse until it is too late, a local solicitor has claimed.
Speaking ahead of the a public consultation - today (Wednesday) at 4pm - on the future of the building which the Justice Minister David Ford has earmarked for closure, Stephen Atherton described it as an attack on the legal representation in south Derry.
Mr Atherton, of John J. McNally & Co, said the attack was twofold - the closure of the Courthouse and the “savage cuts” in legal aid which would impact on all local people who avail of legal services be they criminal justice, family disputes or small claims.
Describing the public on consultation as a box ticking exercise to avoid a judicial review the lawyer went on to criticise local politicians.
He said only one elected representative attended the previous consultation when it was considered moving the Court business to Antrim.
“What I find most depressing is that these decisions are being taken by locally elected representatives,” he continued.
What I find most depressing is that these decisions are being taken by locally elected representatives - Stephen Atherton
“There is an election coming up and I would urge people to ask those that come to their door seeking a vote to ask them what they have done to save Magherafelt Courthouse.”
He said that step-by-step court business had been reduced in the local Court to make it appear it was not worth keeping open.
Mr Atherton said people in the south Derry area had to face the reality that they were losing another public service and legal representation because of the legal aid cuts.
Continuing, he warned of the “logistics” involved for people having to travel to Dungannon Courthouse in time for the start of business.
Magherafelt Courthouse took five years to build at a cost of £5,000 back in 1872.
The Salters’ Company of London, who built the town, had battled for years to get the Courthouse in Magherafelt as The Grand Jury had originally intended it for Maghera.