A series of recommendations to rationalise the court estate in Northern Ireland have been outlined to the Justice Committee today.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: “On 29 January 2015 the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) published a consultation paper on proposals to rationalise the court estate.
“The consultation document set out the challenges facing NICTS in the context of diminishing resources which meant that continuing to operate the current 20 courthouses is no longer sustainable. In addition to the financial challenges, business volumes have been falling and many of the Court buildings are underutilised. It was therefore necessary to reflect on the number of courthouses required.
“The Justice Committee has today been briefed on the outcome of the consultation process and on a series of recommendations currently under consideration by the Justice Minister, David Ford.”
In summary, it is recommended that:
- The Old Townhall Building should remain closed at this time and the potential to develop it as a Family Justice Centre should be considered as an option in the context of the Department of Justice Estate Strategy;
- Lisburn should close and the business transfer to Laganside Courts.
- Newtownards should be retained at this time and as a result the Administrative Court Divisions have been reconfigured. The future retention of Newtownards will be tied to the outcome of ongoing consideration of the potential use of the Old Townhall Building;
- Ballymena should close. Following a review of court business levels we believe that with some modest adjustment to the court calendar all business can be transferred to Antrim rather than being split between Antrim and Coleraine;
- Armagh should close and all business transferred to Newry;
- Enniskillen should be retained at this time but that it should be designated as a hearing centre and opened only on those days when a court is sitting;
- Strabane should close and business should be transferred to Omagh;
- The earlier decision to close Magherafelt should be implemented, but business should be transferred to Dungannon; and
- The earlier decision to close Limavady should be implemented and business transferred to Coleraine.
The spokesperson continued: “At this stage no final decisions have been made. The Minister will take time to reflect on the views of the Justice Committee and will make an announcement in the new year.”