Court Closures

To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the court houses across the country that are due to be closed by the Courts Service; the reasons for each proposed closure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Billy Kelleher

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 25th October, 2011.

ANSWER

As the Deputy should be aware, the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998 conferred sole responsibility on the Courts Service for management of courts and, as Minister, I have no role in the matter. Section 4(3) of the 1998 Act provides that the Service is independent in the performance of its functions, which includes the provision, maintenance and management of court buildings and provision of facilities for court users.

I have, however, had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that in the current financial climate all court venues are kept under continuing review. A number of qualitative criteria are applied to each venue including case count, condition of the building, proximity of local Gardaí, number of sittings per annum, etc. The Service endeavours to ensure, insofar as possible, that venues have cell accommodation available in order to reduce Prison Service escort costs as well as meeting the standard that court users are entitled to expect while also considering the efficiency of the particular court.

The Courts Service Board decided at its meeting on 17 October last to approve the closing of the following District court houses:

Ballymote which will be amalgamated with Sligo.

Boyle which will be amalgamated with Carrick on Shannon. The Circuit Court also sits from time to time in Boyle and these sittings will now take place in Roscommon.

Templemore which will be amalgamated with Thurles.

Kiltimagh and Claremorris in Co Mayo which will be amalgamated with Castlebar. I understand the District court has not sat in Claremorris since 2009 and that its business has been heard in Kiltimagh. I am informed that the business of all three venues will in future be heard in Castlebar.

While there are no court houses in Castleisland and Athenry, the Courts Service has informed me that those District courts sit in very unsuitable premises and so will also be relocated. With the exception of Castleisland which is due to close on 1 December, it is intended that the other closures will take effect early in 2012. In this context it should be noted that the Board has over the past 12 years amalgamated 140 District Court areas.

The Courts Service has informed me that decisions to close a particular venue are generally taken due to its poor condition, some of which present a health and safety risk which would cost a great deal to rectify. The absence of holding cells in a number of cases is also a factor. However, achieving greater efficiencies particularly with regard to freeing up judicial, staff and Garda time currently spent travelling between venues is also a consideration. I am informed that this rationalisation policy has gained operational efficiencies, saves time and improves speed of access to justice.