Local politicians have expressed their outrage after Justice Minister David Ford announced last week that he intended to press ahead with plans to close Lisburn courthouse.
Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots, who sits on the Stormont Justice Committee, said he believed the Minister’s decision to close the courthouse is “particularly shortsighted”, claiming that any savings made would be “absolutely minimal if they existed at all”.
He continued: “More importantly, the human cost is much more significant in that most of the courts business is in family law and many vulnerable families will end up having to travel to Belfast and use Laganside.
“I do not believe Laganside Courthouse is capable of absorbing the additional numbers going through without there being a radical upheaval of how the courts do their business.”
Alderman William Leathem, speaking on behalf of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, said he was deeply disappointed by the decision, which will mean that Lisburn is the only city in Northern Ireland without a courthouse.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister,” said Mr Leathem, Chairman of the Council’s Governance and Audit Committee. “I will also be reiterating our views, namely that the Lisburn Courthouse should be retained for family and children’s court services.”
Lagan Valley MLA Jonathan Craig said he believed the Justice Minister had failed to listen to the views of local people on the issue. “In his statement the Justice Minister admitted that the court in Lisburn is utilised almost 60% of the time, one of the highest in Northern Ireland. Despite this he is keeping other courthouses open, which have utilisation figures as low as 30%. This is a situation which I believe could be open to Judicial review if challenge.”
Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan said the decision to close the courthouse was “a hammer blow” to the city.
“I am appalled by this decision to close Lisburn Courthouse, which will have a detrimental impact on people using the Court,” said Mr Givan.
Lisburn and Castlereagh City TUV councillor Andrew Girvin and Lagan Valley Assembly candidate Lyle Rea issued a joint statement, adding: “David Ford from the very beginning has sought to close Lisburn courthouse, and appears unwilling to listen to any workable ideas which the community and elected representatives put forward.”