Court closures will impact domestic violence victims, support groups say

Some women may choose not to seek court protection, West Cork organisation says


Domestic violence victims’ groups have said court venue closures will have “catastrophic consequences” on their clients.

The board of the Courts Service is to make a decision on the closure of nine court venues at the end of the month in Cork, Offaly, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan and Wicklow. Marie Mulholland of West Cork Women Against Violence said some women may “inevitably” decide not to seek court protection, if court venues in the area are closed. She said the organisation will have to reduce court accompaniments for clients due to time constraints in travelling and the costs associated with it.

“Instead of offering a responsive service to our clients, we would have to prioritise to whom we could offer this service,” she said. She said the closures would mean increased and unnecessary stress on clients and increased costs for them.

“The decision would also mean a reduction in the availability of other related professionals on the ground, for example gardaí and social workers as they too will have to increase their travelling time thus impacting on their availability to provide frontline services,” she said.

False economy
Ms Mulholland described the proposal to close “more courts in West Cork” as “short-sighted”.

She said in the long-term it would provide no real cost-effective savings. “Instead, it will impact on the delivery and availability of already stretched frontline public and non-governmental organisation services, and perhaps most importantly deny the fundamental right of access to justice for those most in need of the protections offered by the courts. It is essential that these indigenous courts be retained in order to ensure that women and children at risk are able to access legal remedies locally. Should the closures go ahead then it will lend support to the growing perception that access to justice is the privilege of those who can afford it.”

Those concerns were echoed by Anne Clarke, development manager with Offaly Domestic Violence Support Service. She said if the closures of Edenderry and Birr go ahead, it will make it more difficult for women.

Public transport in the area was poor, she said, and women on low incomes might not have the money to pay for other means of travel to Tullamore, where the courts look likely to be relocated. She also said she was worried the closures could cause delays in hearing cases. “This is putting more obstacles in the way of women accessing justice,” she said.