Would the last person leaving Limavady turn out the lights.
That’s the feeling from Limavady solicitor, Peter Jack, after the Justice Minister confirmed Limavady Courthouse will close sometime in the summer.
David Ford also announced the closure of a further five courthouses. They are in Armagh, Ballymena, Lisburn, Magherafelt and Strabane. He told the assembly on Monday that his decision was based on “unprecedented financial pressures” and the underuse of courthouses.
David Ford also cited falling staffing levels.
“In common with other public sector organisations, the Department of Justice has seen very significant budget reductions in recent years,” said Mr Ford.
The process of closures is to begin in the summer and will result in annual savings of £1.1m, he said.
It’s starting to feel like a case of ‘would the last person leaving Limavady turn out the lights’. That’s the way we’re going.”Solicitor Peter Jack
Secretary of Limavady Solicitors’ Association, Peter Jack, said the retention of Limavady Courthouse was something supported by all political parties, and the community. Mr Jack claimedthe decision was driven by bureaucrats and civil servants.
“There is no need, economic or otherwise, for this decision,” Mr Jack told the ‘Journal’. “David Ford talks about the courthouse being underused, but it is perfectly fit for the need it serves. It has served the community well. It will still have to be maintained as part of the Court estate, It will be awkward for users to get to Coleraine for 10am using public transport. It will be a waste of police time and take them off the beat. It’s not good.”
Peter Jack said there had been a campaign to save the courthouse for 14 years, so confirmation of closure was no great surprise.
“When they made it a hearing centre we knew it was on the list to be axed,” said Mr Jack. “It’s a sad day for the town. We’ve lost the custody suite in Limavady PSNI station and now the Courthouse. What have we left - the library and the Jobs & Benefits Office? It’s starting to feel like a case of ‘would the last person leaving Limavady turn out the lights’. That’s the way we’re going.”
Mr Jack said the closure of Limavady Courthouse would have to be marked in some way.
“It’s been in use for more than a century. We’ll have to find an appropriate way to mark its closure,” added Mr Jack.
Claire Sugden, Independent MLA, said the decision to close Limavady courthouse now leaves many people with a lack of access.
“Limavady is a rural area. Victims, witnesses and families will now have to travel to courthouses in Coleraine or Londonderry which are already busy. The additional case load will add to existing pressures,” said Ms Sugden.
“The responses to the Department’s consultation were against the closure of Limavady courthouse but it seems they have not been listened to. I am further disappointed that the Minister has said that he will not meet with those who are affected by his decision.
“The Courts and Tribunal Service are to maintain Limavady courthouse building which is over 100 years old. It has been a landmark in Limavady for many years and local people do not want to see it become run down or go to waste. It could be used for many worthy purposes within the community.
“I have been contacted by stakeholders in the Limavady area who have voiced their concerns to me. I have arranged to meet with local people next week to discuss the impacts of this decision on them.”