District judge speaks out over threat to close Larne Court

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A DISTRICT judge has issued a rallying cry to save Larne Magistrate’s Court from closure.

As reported in last week’s paper, 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.

The plans prompted a chorus of condemnation from local elected representatives, including East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs, who called for it to be “rejected and resisted”.

District Judge Robert Alcorn, who sits in Larne Courthouse on a regular basis, has added his voice to the campaign and urged the local community to fight the proposed closure.

He added: “I realise that the Department has to save money, but I am totally against the planned closure of Larne Courthouse and the four others.

“It is my opinion that justice should be administered locally, not in some other town. Also, Larne is a town with a very busy port, so the local courthouse is important for that reason.

“Another reason I feel the court should stay open is due to the geographical location of Larne. It is not always easy getting to Ballymena over Shane’s Hill Road, especially at this time of year due to the weather.

“And what about those Larne residents who are on benefits and cannot afford public transport to and from the courthouse in Ballymena?

“I hope that the Larne community will make some representation to see if the courthouse can be saved. If people are apathetic and remain silent during this consultation period, the court could be lost for good and that would be a very sad day for Larne,” said Mr Alcorn, who is to write to the Department.

He urged Larne Borough Council to take the lead in the campaign to save the Victoria Road courthouse, as it did when the facility was last threatened with closure in the late Nineties.

“The town clerk was one of the main motivators behind the previous campaign to save Larne Courthouse, and the then MP for the area, Roy Beggs Snr, was also instrumental in staving off the threat. I hope the council and local politicians will again unite and show their support to help save Larne Courthouse.”

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.