The Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Courts Service has confirmed that they intend to proceed with their rationalisation scheme and still plan to close Lisburn Courthouse.
Thousands of people in Lisburn signed a petition opposing the closure, however, the Chief Executive, Mr Ronnie Armour, said that he expected his budget would continue to decrease and that as a result they needed to continue with the plan of rationalisation.
Mr Armour will be briefing the Stormont Justice Committee and will propose that Lisburn Courthouse should close with business being transferred to Laganside Courts.
However, Mr Armour has said that further consultation will be held into the closure of Lisburn Courthouse before the Justice Minister makes a final decision on the matter.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he was “extrememly disappointed” that the Courts Service was progressing with plans to close Lisburn Courthouse.
“The local community had rallied behind the campaign to keep Lisburn Courthouse open and there was strong support for the petition,” said Mr Donaldson. “I felt that a clear and coherent argument had been made to retain the court facilities in Lisburn and whilst I recognise the pressures on the Courts Service budget, I contend that if the Minister of Justice proceeds with this closure it will significantly disadvantage people from Lisburn and lead to an overcrowded court system at Laganside.
“Now that there is to be further consultation, I will be asking the Minister to explain the rationale behind keeping Newtownards and Antrim courts open but closing the court in Lisburn. Our city has a bigger population than either of these towns and no rational argument has been made as to why either would be more cost effective than Lisburn. This is a setback but we should not give up or give in to the Department without again making the clear case for our city continuing to have local court facilities to serve a growing population.”
The Star contacted Lisburn Solicitors, who launched the petition opposing the closure, for their reaction. A spokesperson for the Lisburn Solicitors said: “We are extremely disappointed by the proposal made by NICTS to choose Lisburn as a court earmarked for closure.
“We have made it very clear to DoJ that the closure of the court will have a damaging and long term detrimental effect on the people of Lisburn.
“The indication by the NICTS appears to suggest that all Lisburn court business will move to the Lagan side court in Belfast, where we are already aware there are many issues of overcrowding and lack of facilities.
“We will continue to make representations to the department and to court service about all mattes to ensure that Lisburn does not receive a second rate service.”
Deputy Mayor of Lisburn, Councillor Alexander Redpath is urging the Justice Minister to reject the proposals by the Courts Service. “I am extremely disappointed that the Chief Executive of the Court Service is recommending that the Minister proceed with this closure,” said Mr Redpath.
“Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council engaged constructively with the Court Service and went so far as to instruct experts to prepare plans about how the building could be better used.
“The Justice Minister has the final say on this recommendation. I would urge him not to proceed with short term cuts that will significantly increase pressures on other areas of his budget in the long term. Hundreds of court users will be significantly disadvantaged if this closure goes ahead.”
Lisburn Councillor Robbie Butler added: ““If this was confirmed by the Justice Minister in the run-up to the Christmas holiday period, it would be a real kick in the teeth for the city.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this closure of the courthouse would be a retrograde step, given the strategic importance of the building in Lisburn, the important service it provides to the region and the aesthetic value of the building itself.
“I will be demanding that the Minister urgently reviews any closure decision given the significant widespread political and community support for the retention of this iconic building and the service it provides in Lisburn.”