Courts service told to reconsider decision to close Skibbereen courthouse
High Court upholds arguments by local lawyers that decision was contaminated by errors of fact
Solicitors in west Cork have won a High Court order requiring the Courts Service to reconsider its decision approving the closure of Skibberreen courthouse.
Mr Justice Seamus Noonan upheld arguments by the West Cork Bar Association and six local solicitors the 2013 closure decision was contaminated by errors of fact concerning the alleged savings to be achieved by closing the courthouse.
There was no dispute savings figures put before the Courts Service Board were “manifestly mistaken”, he said.
A report of September 2013 and its appendices gave three different annual cost savings figures of €15,783, €8,000 and €13,168, he said.
While it might he said the figures were relatively modest, the highest was almost double the lowest and two at least of the figures, if not all three, were wrong, he said. The mistake, had it been realised might have lead to a different decision.
The judge said it was important to note the entire project of closing courthouses was primarily, if not entirely, about the allocation of funding and to see if savings could be made.
While the Courts Service argued this case was essentially a challenge to its decision on how to allocate limited resources, and had repeatedly referred to budgetary constraints, that can really only come down to saving money, the judge said.
If closing the courthouse would result in a cost to the Courts Service, that could not be said to be a beneficial use of resources, he said. If, on the other hand, closure was predicated on savings being made, then it was difficult to see that the amount of any such saving could not be material to that decision.
The errors of fact in this case are “fatal” to the closure decision, he ruled.
The judge also upheld arguments by the solicitors that the Courts Service Board failed to give any reasons for its decision despite that decision having been made following an extensive consultation process extending over years. The Board’s decision simply featured a simple statement it had decided to approve the closure and the Association was “left in the dark” about the reasons for that, he found.
While refusing to make an order directing the Courts Service to keep Skibberreen courthouse open, the judge said he would quash the closure decision and direct the Courts Service Board to reconsider the matter in light of those findings.