Clergyman urges Ford to save local hearing centre

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A LARNE cleric has said he believes the Department of Justice has failed to make a solid case for closing the town’s courthouse.

Rev Dr Paul Reid, minister at the Old Presbyterian Church of Larne and Kilwaughter, revealed that he and fellow clergy met with Justice Minister David Ford to put the case for retaining the local hearing centre.

“I am very disappointed with the decision,” said Dr Reid. “It is a very sad day for Larne, coming after the recent announcements from FG Wilson and of course in recent years we have seen the complete haemorrhaging of jobs and services out of the town.

“Justice is best served at local level and I am not convinced by the arguments for closure because the building could be better used. At present, inquests are not held in Larne and having to travel to Belfast simply adds to the misery of families who have been bereaved. There is no need for that when we have a building in Larne that is fit for the purpose.

“Likewise, tribunals are heard in Belfast and again there is no need because the courthouse could easily accommodate those hearings.”

Dr Reid also challenged the assertion that the 1903 building fails to meet disability requirements. “How can it be better,” he asked, “for disabled people to have to get on a bus at 7.30am that gets in to Ballymena station at 8.15am? The Department says that bus timetables coincide with court times, but I disagree with that.

“There is a bigger issue. It is entirely possible that we could end up with the scenario of accused and victims travelling on the same bus, which could lead to intimidation. And it is often a fact that many of the people who go before the courts are on the breadline and they are being asked to pay fares between Larne and Ballymena. I have no doubt that it will lead to more people failing to turn up when summonsed and bench warrants being issued for their arrest.”

Dr Reid stated: “I said at the time when court days were cut to two each week that they were taking away half the loaf and it is no surprise that they have now come back for the rest of it. I am convinced that it is all about saving money and I would plead with the minister to reconsider.”