Closure of six courthouses will undermine justice system
THE confirmed closure of six courthouses in Northern Ireland will undermine the justice system, the Law Society said.
An increased volume of cases being spread across a more limited range of court venues could cause overcrowding and delays of business, president of the solicitors' body John Guerin said.
Armagh, Ballymena, Limavady, Lisburn, Magherafelt and Strabane will close but Newtownards and Enniskillen have been reprieved, Justice Minister David Ford confirmed.
Mr Guerin said: "Court closures will cause greater disruption, inconvenience and unnecessary stress to court users and those seeking access to justice.
"The reality is that a reduced court infrastructure will mean an increased volume of cases being spread across a more limited range of court venues resulting in the potential for overcrowding and delays of business.
"Instead of serving to improve the efficiency of the justice system and protect access to justice, it will undermine the effectiveness of the system and leave those that need it most without access to their local court."
Mr Ford faced a barrage of criticism at Stormont from MLAs whose constituencies included closing courthouses. Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots said Lisburn court users would face "the mayhem of Laganside Courts, which is already bursting at the seams."
The minister relied on the low usage rates at the venues last year to justify his decision.
Enniskillen will remain open only on the two or three days a week when there are cases to be heard.
The minister said it was not practicable to accommodate the court business currently dealt with in Newtownards at Laganside in Belfast.
He added: "Its longer-term future will be determined as and when decisions are taken in relation to the future use of the Old Townhall Building."
He said while creating a Family Justice Centre at Old Townhall remains an aspiration, the funding that would be required to make this happen was not available at this time.
"Consequently the building will remain closed on a temporary basis and its future use will be considered in the context of the wider DoJ estate strategy."