Decisions on future of nine courts to be made this month by Court Service board
Closures will reduce access to justice - say local solicitors
A decision on the future of nine court venues in Cork, Offaly, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan and Wicklow will be made at a Courts Service board meeting this month.
The proposed closures will have a negative impact on access to justice, particularly for the less well off, solicitors groups have said.
As part of a review of 96 venues outside Dublin and Cork city last year, the Courts Service listed 41 for possible closure. So far, 19 have gone to public consultation. Nine of these – Edenderry and Birr in Co Offaly, Skibbereen and Kinsale in Co Cork, Ballyhaunis and Swinford in Co Mayo, Baltinglass in Co Wicklow, Clones in Co Monaghan, and Kells in Co Meath – will have a decision made on their future at the end of this month.
The shortlist for possible closure was drawn up by the Courts Service building committee on the basis of a points system. Points were awarded for physical condition, annual case count, ownership, on-site holding cells and other factors.
The maximum number of points available was 62. Kinsale and Ballyhaunis both scored eight, Swinford 10, Edenderry and Clones 11, Skibbereen and Baltinglass 13, and Birr and Kells both scored 15.
Local solicitors have raised concerns about the criteria used and questioned the thinking behind the rationalisation plan.
Pat O’Connor, managing partner at O’Connor & Sons in Swinford, said the effect of closing Swinford courthouse would be to denude south and east Mayo of all court sittings.* Thirteen courts had closed in the area already, some near Swinford, but instead of moving court lists into Swinford, they were moved to other venues such as Castlebar.
“This was a way of ensuring that the results that they wanted were achieved by creating the transfer of cases, not to the nearest court venue but to a good distance away,” O’Connor said.
“They set the criteria for Swinford to get the desired result; they decided on the result first and then they worked backwards to get the score to fit into it.”
He said they also failed to take into account the case load for the Circuit Court, which also sits at Swinford, and the Coroner’s Court.
O’Connor said the “micro effect” of the closure of the courthouse might have some small effect on the overall running costs of courthouses in Co Mayo, but the macro effect, on service-users like the Garda, the Probation Service, solicitors and the public particularly, would be “to increase very substantially and significantly the overall cost of attending court”.
Edenderry solicitor Nevan O’Shaughnessy, who sent a submission to the Courts Service on behalf of local solicitors, said Edenderry courthouse was awarded six out of 10 for physical conditions but was in “perfect shape”. He said he was aware solicitors had “a vested interest”, but it was the ordinary people who would suffer, along with local businesses whose trade gets a boost every time the court sits in the town. “The Court Service report on Edenderry itself says the hours of the local bus service [to Tullamore] are not conducive to court business,” he said.