Appeal for Minister to rethink court closure plan

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Calls have been made for the Justice Minister to go back to the drawing board over the proposed closure of Ballymena Courthouse.

Alliance MLA David Ford has announced plans to axe eight of Northern Ireland’s 20 courthouses because of budget cuts to his department.

The move comes after Larne courthouse was shut due to financial constraints back in 2013, with all local court business being transferred to Ballymena.

If the plans go ahead, Ballymena and Larne court business would be relocated to either Antrim or Coleraine.

A delegation from Mid and East Antrim Council met with Mr Ford recently to voice their concern about the proposed closure and urged him to reconsider.

A statement from MEA Council said: “The minister has agreed to consider proposals for alternative ways forward, and suggested that his officials work with the council in order to identify options for the future use of the courthouse.”

Mid and East Antrim Deputy Presiding Chairman, Cllr Timothy Gaston said: “I think it is important for local people to see that justice is being done.

“Closing Ballymena Courthouse means that the new Mid and East Antrim borough will be left without a courthouse, something which I feel is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, Mr Ford’s Alliance Party colleague, Larne councillor John Mathews, told the Times: “It is very unfortunate that the Department of Justice’s budget has been squeezed so tightly that Mr Ford has been forced to make this decision.

“I have spoken to him on this issue and he is upset that it has come to this.

“Ballymena is far enough for Larne residents to have to travel to attend court, and it is sad that people could now be forced to take connecting bus or trains services to attend court in Antrim or Coleraine.

“It is my belief that justice should be administered as locally as possible.”

The consultation on the future of Ballymena Courthouse is due to close on April 30.