Larne Courthouse may close by 2014

LARNE Courthouse could close within two years under new recommendations put forward by independent inspectors.

Justice Minister David Ford has commissioned the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) to develop an Estate Strategy in response to a recent report by Criminal Justice Inspection NI on the adequacy of the court estate.

The report sets out 10 recommendations for improvement and advises that the NICTS should bring forward proposals to close the five court hearing centres at Larne, Bangor, Limavady, Magherafelt and Strabane within two years.

Mr Ford has accepted this assessment and an action plan is now being developed in line with the recommendations.

The Minister said: “This report sets out very clearly the size of the challenge ahead in providing high quality and accessible court venues, suitable for victims, witnesses and dependants, in a challenging economic environment.

“I agree with the recommendation that an affordable and appropriate Estate Strategy should be developed and I have commissioned staff in the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service to take forward that work.

“An efficient court estate plays a vital role in the administration of justice and today’s report makes clear that the facilities for court users vary considerably from place to place. That is not a situation that I can allow to continue indefinitely.”

As previously reported in the Times, the proposal to close Larne Courthouse for good and move all court business to Ballymena provoked a backlash from local people, including councillors, lawyers, clergy and community workers, who turned out at a public meeting in January to voice their objections to the plans.

Larne Borough Council has been leading the campaign to save the court from closure, and chief executive Geraldine McGahey told the Times of her disappointment with the latest development.

She said: “The Council, in making its submission to the Minister’s consultation, has forcefully argued for the continuation of the services at Larne Courthouse and we view with dismay the report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland.

“The Council would appeal to the Minister to give careful consideration to any decision on the future of court services in Larne and the impact of the removal of this valued public service on the civic and business life of the community.”

Public consultation on the proposed closure of these venues has closed and the Department is considering the responses. Mr Ford has stated that he wants to “reflect carefully” on what was said during the consultation period before arriving at his final decision.