Advice charity warning over Courthouse closure

A Limavady charity offering free advice to residents facing court appearances has warned it may have to remove the service if the local courthouse closes.

The stark warning is from LCDI’s Advice centre, which has added its voice to the “public outcry” at the proposed closure of Limavady Courthouse.

NI Court Service wants to close Limavady Courthouse and four other hearing centres to save aound £400,000 a year. Closing the 290-year-old Limavady courthouse would save £54,000, according to NI Court Service.

Local councillors and sports clubs, as well as the Limavady Solicitors’ Association have mounted a campaign to save the courthouse from closure, which if closes, would deny local people local access to justice.

Now the Advice Centre, which is one of the local charity’s original projects when it first opened 25 year ago, has given its support.

LCDI Manager Damien Corr explained in the early days the advice service was very “centre based”.

“In the intervening years the reputation of the Centre has soared and its services are in demand at an unprecedented level covering a wider range of issues,” said Mr Corr. “The Centre’s success rate in tribunal representation has led to requests for other forms of advocacy that brings us into contact with the Courts Service.”

Harry Lyness is the manager of the Advice Centre and believes the proposed closure will have an adverse effect on LCDI’s clients. He explained the majority of LCDI’s representation is in the Small Claims Court, but notes an increase in the amount of TV Licensing and Utility cases. One such case was as recent as last Wednesday, involving a TV License.

“Many of our clients are on benefits and have limited financial capacity, this is the only representation available to most of them,” he said. “The LCDI Advice Centre has very limited resources and we are already stretched to the limit. If the Courthouse is moved to Coleraine then we will be forced to consider whether this is a service that we can continue to provide. For the last 25 years we have provided free, impartial and accessible advice to the citizens of this Borough and we have to strive to maintain this ethos.

“There are, however, additional costs in terms of mileage and time that might make the Coleraine scenario un-viable for us. In the time that it will take an advisor to travel to Coleraine and represent a client and return to the office, we could see at least a couple of clients in Limavady. It seems clear that without more funding to cover these additional costs, we may well not be in a position to offer representation/advocacy to our clients”.

A spokesperson for the Board of LCDI Ltd said: “It would seem that the savings achieved through the closure of Limavady’s Courthouse may constitute somewhat of a false economy when set against the losses imposed upon the community.”