Steps announced to close Magherafelt Courthouse

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Justice minister David Ford has confirmed the future closure of Magherafelt Courthouse due to financial restrictions on his department.

Steps to close the 144-year-old building are expected to get underway in the summer.

Mr Ford announced his decision on Monday despite opposition from members of the South Derry Solicitors’ Association, local MLAs and councillors.

They argued that local people would be denied access to the justice system and would experience disruption, inconvenience and unnecessary stress.

Overall six courthouses across Northern Ireland are due to close, resulting in annual savings of £1.1m.

The closure of the Magherafelt building will save an estimated £60,000. It’s future has been hanging in the balance since 2012.

The minister said he has taken extensive time to consider his decisions and has come to them due to “unprecedented financial pressures”.

He also cited the high number of courts in the province, their under utilisation and staff cuts.

“In common with other public sector organisations, the Department of Justice has seen very significant budget reductions in recent years,” he said.

“These reductions have had, and will continue to have, a significant adverse impact upon the entire justice system, including the Courts and Tribunals Service.”

Mr Ford acknowledged the sensitive nature of the proposals and the concerns about the potential impact that closures will have on court users.

“I would also wish to stress that rationalisation of the court estate is part of a wider process of modernisation which not only involves NICTS assessing where it delivers court and tribunal services but also how those services are delivered,” he said.

DUP MLA Ian McCrea voiced his outrage at the announcement. He said it is another example of front line public services being stripped from the Mid Ulster area.

“I am disappointed that the minister is determined to proceed with his plans despite the minimal savings he will make by such a closure,” he added.

UUP MLA Sandra Overend also expressed disappointment at the news.

“It is disappointing that the Minister has decided to ignore the arguments put forward by elected representatives, the legal profession and the public since then and proceed with the closure,” she said.

“I simply do not accept that closing Magherafelt Court House will do anything to help a judicial system that is already struggling with a backlog in which thousands of cases are already delayed beyond the agreed performance targets.”