Ballymena court move ‘is not equality’

Ballymena Courthouse. INBT02-213AC
Ballymena Courthouse. INBT02-213AC

MEA councillors have given evidence to the NI Assembly Committee for Justice on the proposed closure of Ballymena courthouse.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Councillor Billy Ashe and Alderman Tommy Nicholl attended the committee’s evidence-gathering event in Parliament Buildings on July 2 to discuss the potential impact of the proposed closure.

Alderman Tommy Nicholl described the meeting with the Justice Committee as “very fruitful.”

“I believe that in many ways we gave leadership to the councils affected who were there from across the Province,” he told Mid and East Antrim Councillors.

“We asked them to go back to the drawing board and get the decision right. We advised the Chief Executive to take time and do the right thing, not just for today but for the long term.

“We finished by saying that Mid and East Antrim needs a courthouse in our area.

“If these proposals went through then to the best of my knowledge we would be the only council in the Province out of 11 that wouldn’t have a courthouse and to my mind that’s not equality.

“Equality of opportunity does not exist in these proposals,” he concluded.

Mayor Billy Ashe added: “We could be the only borough with no courthouse. This is due to short term stresses rather than long-term promises of security. “The council’s Chief Executive is meeting with the Chief Executive of the Court Service shortly to explain our position.”

The Department of Justice is proposing to axe eight of Northern Ireland’s 20 courthouses due to budget cuts.

Under the plans, which are currently out for consultation, cases heard at Ballymena Magistrates would be transferred to Antrim Courthouse.

The move follows the closure of Larne courthouse in 2013, at which stage all cases heard there were transferred to Ballymena.