Magherafelt courthouse to close

MAGHERAFELT courthouse is to close, the Justice Minister has confirmed.

The Hospital Road facility is one of four set to shut its doors within the next two years.

Limavady, Bangor and Larne will also close as they were “among the smallest and least well equipped venues within the court estate”, according to Justice Minister David Ford.

Strabane courthouse was also under consideration but was given a reprieve.

It is expected that Magherafelt will close before 2014 along with Limavady courthouse while Bangor and Larne courts will close by April 2013.

The decision follows a public consultation on the future of the five courthouses by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) in December 2011.

At the time, the NICTS said it was operating in a challenging economic environment and the buildings in question required significant investment.

In a statement on Thursday, the Minister Ford said: “I have listened carefully to the points made by consultees and I recognise the convenience of having local court facilities.”

But he 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.”

He said it was a “first step” towards achieving better utilisation across a more “consolidated and better equipped” court estate.

The news of the court closure has received criticism from Mid-Ulster MLA Ian McCrea who said the decision was “another example” of frontline services being “stripped”.

“I am outraged with this latest decision which will leave Mid Ulster without a court in order to deal with those who break the law,” he said.

“This is another example of front line services being stripped from the Mid Ulster area and the Minister is determined to proceed with his plans despite the widespread opposition to them.”

The MLA continued: “Yet again we are seeing a consultation process which rubber stamps a pre-determined decision. It was wrong to close Cookstown Court and it is wrong to close Magherafelt.”

Earlier in the year Magherafelt the South Derry Solicitors’ Association called for Ballymena courthouse to be shut instead of Magherafelt.

The group said the County Antrim courthouse costs six times more to operate each year than Magherafelt, and conducts less business.

It is expected that from 2014 Magherafelt business will be conducted in Antrim Court House.