Court building closure could have 'far reaching implications'
THE closure of a busy court building in Belfast city centre could have "far reaching implications" for those who use the facility, it has been warned.
The Belfast Solicitors' Association (BSA) claimed a decision by the north's court and tribunal services (NICTS) to close the Old Townhall in Victoria Street was made "without any prior warning and/or consultation with the solicitors".
The NICTS said the decision to shut the building, which houses a number of key court services, including the Youth, Family and Coroner's Court, was "necessary to meet a significant reduction in (its) budget in the context of wider departmental and public section funding pressures."
As a result, the courts which currently sit in the Old Townhall will transfer to the nearby Laganside complex, meaning cases involving children and families could be dealt with in the same building as adult criminal trials.
However, the BSA has voiced concerns about the closure and transfer of services saying there was no discussion over the move.
It also said it did "not believe that the specific needs" of those who would be accessing the Youth and Family Court could be "adequately catered for" at Laganside.
The association said the complex had "insufficient" consultation facilities and that the proposed courtrooms for the Youth Court did not ""reflect best practice design/layout".
It also raised concerns about where young people in custody would be detained prior to appearing in court amid concerns they could be kept with adult detainees.
The NICTS said however that following confirmation of the closure, it did undertake a series of meetings, including with the BSA.
It said preparations had been made for "easy access" for consultation facilities and consultation had been carried on for "changes to seating arrangements and general layout within the courtroom proposed to be used for youth court sittings".
It also revealed that current arrangements for young people in custody would not change.