Barristers offer to build courts and rent them

 

THE Bar Council, representing almost 1,000 barristers, has offered to ease the court logjam by building courtrooms and renting them to the State.

The development of a site the council owns near the Four Courts in Dublin would cost up £15 million, the courthouse element costing £3 million.

Other elements would include barristers' rooms, an arbitration centre, research facilities and a few shops.

To qualify for capital allowances and double rent relief the 1.1 acre site between Church Street and Bow Street would have to be a residential or commercial development. Office space does not qualify for the tax breaks.

When the plan was drawn up last year the council said it would lobby to have barristers' rooms included under the umbrella of a commercial development.

The council is believed to be arguing that they cannot be defined as offices in the usual sense. It hopes the development will qualify as commercial.

The cost of building up to eight courtrooms for the Dublin Circuit Court would be commercially funded and the courtrooms leased to the State.

This would be done on a nonprofit basis, said Bar Council chairman Mr James Nugent (SC). But the council would proceed without the courtrooms if the Department of Justice did not approve it. According to Mr Nugent, the Department has told the council that its offer is "under consideration".

A Department spokeswoman confirmed this yesterday. Under new legislation 17 new judges are to be appointed to alleviate delays of up to four years in cases coming to court.

Mr Michael Durack SC, of the Bar Council, said Dublin's courts were controlled by three separated authorities: the Office of Public Works, Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council.

The Bar Council was frustrated, said Mr Nugent, with the overcrowded court conditions and delays.

There were 24 murder prosecutions pen ding and 54 rape cases: "If you were charged with murder now you could expect a trial sometime in 1997."

The courtrooms would be the first purpose built facilities and if the Department failed to take up the offer they would develop the site without the courtroom element, he said. "If there were a plan they could tell us, `We have a plan and you don't fit into it.' But there is no plan for new buildings. They do have a refurbishment plan for old courthouses.

Mr Nugent's comments followed a meeting of about 500 barristers in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on Saturday. The meeting heard the response to proposals to reform the profession, which has had an uneasy relationship with the media. It undertook to appoint a press and information officer.

Mr Nugent said barristers suffered from a poor public image and most people did not understand the nature of their work.

The council is to meet in February to discuss measures to prove court room conditions. It would examine issues such as proving a separate seat for victims in court away from the defendant.