Concerns Derry Crown Court will move to Coleraine permanently
Concerns have been expressed that the City’s Crown court may be moved permanently to Coleraine.
Derry Crown Court proceedings have been held in Coleraine since September 2020, to allow trials and other court proceedings to adhere to Covid restrictions.
It is understood that six members of staff, who are currently based at Bishop Street Courthouse, are being transferred to Coleraine.
The local legal profession fear that this transfer of staff signals a permanent move for the city’s Crown Court.
Paddy McDaid, Chairperson of the local Bar Association, said the local legal profession are hugely concerned about the situation.
“My gut feeling is that this move is permanent. The Court Service have taken this decision without any consultation with the local profession, despite the impact it will have on them and their clients.”
Mr McDaid said Derry Crown Court has one of the largest caseloads in the North and the courthouse in Coleraine “has no consultation facilities, no catering facilities, limited toilets and it is in the middle of nowhere.”
He added that defendants, the majority of whom are of limited financial means, will have to take two forms of public transport to get to court and he can “foresee a situation where defendants just can’t afford to get there and then arrest warrants are issued and there will be further expense to the public purse and the potential for further delays to court proceedings.”
The local solicitor said discussions about the suitability of the city’s courthouse have been ongoing for three decades and there is “always a sticking plaster approach, rather than dealing with the actual issues.”
Mr McDaid said that the Norther Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) should give consideration to finding an alternative location in Derry for the Crown Court to be held or construct a new courthouse.
However, he claimed “there is a complete lack of commitment and motivation to provide proper court services in the city and Covid is being used as an excuse to move things elsewhere’.
The NICTS did not confirm to the ‘Journal’ whether the city’s Crown Court will remain in Coleraine permanently.
A spokesperson said: “As a result of the pandemic and the requirement to comply with social distancing measures and related PHA / NI Executive guidance, Crown Court business has been listed in Coleraine Courthouse with effect from September 2020.”
They said that the physical capacity to facilitate juries is the reason why business is being listed in Coleraine and it is one of six jury trial venues across the North.
The spokesperson said this situation is “constantly kept under review in light of the latest public health guidance.”
The NICTS said that staff moves are “made periodically to support business needs” and are “managed in compliance with the relevant NICS Human Resource policies and procedures, including Trade Union consultation.”
The spokesperson also told the Journal that “the NICTS, in consultation with Office of the Lord Chief Justice and Department of Justice, have committed to taking forward a major capital project to deliver modern, flexible court and tribunal accommodation for the North-West.”