Courthouse to close ‘within two years’

Magherafelt Courthouse.mm50-346sr
Magherafelt Courthouse.mm50-346sr

A JUDICIAL review maybe held into the Criminal Justice Inspection’s decision to recommend the closure of Magherafelt Courthouse within two years.

Justice Minister David Ford this week agreed to recommendations to close the 142-year-old building and transfer business to Antrim Courthouse.

Ballymena Courthouse, which South Derry solicitors’ asked to be closed instead of Magherafelt, appears to have escaped the chop while Limavady, Strabane and Bangor will shut within 24 months.

Spokesperson for the local Solicitors’ Association Stephen Atherton said he was extremely disappointed at this “illogical and irrational” decision.

Mr Atherton claimed that Magherafelt dealt with more cases than Ballymena Courthouse and was less expensive to run.

He said he would be calling a meeting of the Solicitors’ Association to discuss the CJI’s report in full and to decide their next step.

Mr Atherton added it might well go to a judicial review on the grounds of it being unreasonable.

The Court Service now intend to embark on ‘10 recommendations’ by the CJI for improvement of the court estate and an action plan is to be developed.

The Justice Minister said: “This report sets out very clearly the size of the challenge ahead in providing high quality and accessible court venues, suitable for victims, witnesses and dependants, in a challenging economic environment.

“I agree with the recommendation that an affordable and appropriate Estate Strategy should be developed and I have commissioned staff in the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service to take forward that work.

“An efficient court estate plays a vital role in the administration of justice and today’s report makes clear that the facilities for court users vary considerably from place to place. That is not a situation that I can allow to continue indefinitely.”

Sinn Fein chair of Magherafelt Council Ian Milne said the court closure would be a loss to the town and to the services provided in the district.

“It’s hard enough without people having to make their way to different venues much further away,” he said.