If the NI Courts Service was ever uncertain about the strength of feeling in favour saving Limavady Courthouse, they were left in no doubt on Wednesday with supports of keeping the against 390 year-old building open.
Proposals to close the historic courthouse, and move business to Coleraine, resulted in a packed courtroom of residents, solicitors, students, business and political leaders at a public meeting where officials were accused of carrying out a “penny pinching exercise” and “not caring about Limavady court users”.
The Courts Service argues it has to make savings and better use of the courts estate and that closing Limavady and four other courthouses would save £400,000 per year. It says it would take expenditure of £308,000 to ensure the Courthouse is fit for future use and £3,300 annually to maintain it post closure, but that it would save £54,000 annually in labour costs. Currently, it costs £97,000 annually to run, excluding wages and salaries.
Officials vowed no decision had been made about Limavady courthouse, or any of the four other hearing centres proposed for closure, but Secretary of Limavady Solicitors’ Association Peter Jack said: “There is a perception you’ve your mind made up.”
During the meeting, which lasted over an hour, senior officials Jacqui Durkin and Peter Luney heard wide-ranging contributions, all arguing that the courthouse should stay open. They heard that any saving made through closure would result in increased spending from the public purse. Closure would rob the town of business in its shops and cafes and cause increased travel and costs for users, including defendants, solicitors and PSNI officers. There was also the argument that Limavady would lose an institution that it is proud of, something that is a rich part of the town’s history.
“We are completely and utterly opposed to closure of this courthouse,” said Peter Jack.
He added that said it wouldn’t just be defendants, complainants, witnesses, those paying fines and making small claims that would suffer, but so too would the PSNI and their ability to deliver policing to the town as “officers would be dragged to Coleraine”.
There was also huge concern that people travelling from Limavady would not be able to get to Coleraine in time for court given the bus timetable and that it would mean people arriving late, bench warrants for their arrests; issues all resulting in increased costs on the taxpayer.
‘You don’t care’
“You don’t care about Limavady court users,” blasted Mr. Jack.
The overriding argument, however, was that local people would be denied local justice, and that the 30,000 people of the entire borough of Limavady would experience a disconnect to local justice.