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Justice inspectorate backs closing ‘outdated and under-used’ courts

A justice watchdog has endorsed proposals to close Armagh Courthouse and said that keeping the current number of court facilities here “is not an option”.

In a report, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate said progress had been made in relation to the management of the courts estate.

It supports the actions to “close a number of outdated, expensive, under-used courthouses and hearing centres” as part of the cost-saving measures required.

In all, Justice Minister David Ford had announced the proposals to close eight courts and these were highlighted during the course of a series of public engagements.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council employed consultants and submitted a report and have argued the case for the retention. Among the key points are the continued drip-drain of jobs from what was once a well recognised centre for public administration, and the fact that the listed building, at one end of the Mall, was unlikely to find an alternative use and would cost substantially more to maintain.

No decision has yet been taken in relation to the proposals.

But the CJI says the level of use of some courts has fallen below maintenance costs and the need up upgrade facilities to meet modern requirements is beyond the budgetary reach of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service.

Today’s report states: “The NICTS could consider the reduced utilisation at Laganside and Lisburn as an opportunity to transfer business from a court building (Lisburn) with very poor custody accommodation and vehicle access to one of the most modern courts in the NICTS estate.

“Similar conditions pertain in the case of Armagh and Newry Courts and these changes could be implemented without influencing the longer term proposals for the remainder of the estate.”

Court facilities in Larne and Bangor have already been closed.

Of the options relating to Armagh, these involve transferring business between Craigavon and Newry, but none in the original report by Mr Ford cited retaining Armagh in any form.

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