Council launches defence against closure of court

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LARNE Council is set to mount a “fierce resistance” against the proposed closure of the local courthouse, it has been revealed.

Justice Minister David Ford is considering shutting hearing centres in Larne, Bangor, Limavady, Magherafelt and Strabane in a bid to cut costs during what he called “a time of severe financial stringency”.

The Department of Justice consultation paper proposes to transfer Larne court business to Ballymena Courthouse.

Last month, the Times reported that District Judge Robert Alcorn, who regularly sits at Larne Courthouse, was first off the blocks in condemning the proposals and called on the council to take the lead in a campaign to save the facility.

And this week, chief executive Geraldine McGahey made it clear that the local authority intends to fight the planned closure, as it did as it did when the court last came under threat in the late Nineties.

“The council will be making a robust representation to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service in its consultation on the future of use of Larne Courthouse as a hearing centre,” she told the Times.

Mrs McGahey now plans to meet with local solicitors in the hopes of adding their voices to the chorus of objections against the proposal.

“The proposal to transfer court business to Ballymena will be fiercely resisted by the council. If the aim of the proposed reforms is to save money, then Larne can demonstrate that at £46,800 per year, it has the lowest running costs of all the current hearing centres.

“Furthermore, it has the potential to expand its role in the provision of court services with the establishment of a new detention centre in the area.

“It is the view of the council that this is a much-valued public service and any attempt to remove this diminishes the civic and business life of the community and any closure will have a disproportionate impact on the town and surrounding area,” Mrs McGahey concluded.

Courts and Tribunals Service officials will be available to meet interested parties at each of the five venues earmarked for closure. The consultation in Larne Courthouse is on Friday, January 20 at 4pm.

Copies of the consultation document can be accessed at www.courtsni.gov.uk or by emailing communicationsgroup@courtsni.gov.uk or calling 028 9041 2292.