Lisburn Courthouse, which had been earmarked for closure, is to remain open, the Justice Minister has announced.
Claire Sugden MLA delivered the good news in the Assembly chamber today (Tuesday).
Her predecessor, David Ford MLA, had been pushing ahead with plans for the closure of five local courthouses, including Lisburn.
Mr Ford told the Assembly that his decision was based on “unprecedented financial pressures” and the underuse of courthouses.
However, on Tuesday afternoon Ms Sugden told the Assembly that she was reversing the decision taken in the previous mandate.
Highlighting the ongoing changes within the Northern Ireland justice system, the Minister said: “I have concluded that now is not the time to proceed with court closures on the scale envisaged.”
She added: “Given the changing justice landscape, I have concluded that we should retain maximum flexibility within the court estate for the time being. At the same time, I have asked the Chief Executive of the Court Service to establish a review of what the future of court services should look like in 2020 and beyond.”
Thousands of people in Lisburn signed a petition opposing the Northern Ireland Courts Service rationalisation scheme, which proposed that Lisburn Courthouse should close and business be transferred to Laganside Courts in Belfast.
The Minister’s decision has been welcomed by Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who said: “I am delighted that the Justice Minister has now set aside the decision of her predecessor to close Lisburn Courthouse. I met with Claire Sugden at Westminster just a few weeks ago to discuss the retention of Lisburn Courthouse and I was greatly encouraged by her very pragmatic approach and her recognition that removing the court facilities would cause hardship for many local people with a very limited saving for her Department in financial terms. The Minister has invited us to submit proposals to maximise the use of the Courthouse and this decision will give us time to bring forward such proposals to enhance the use of these facilities as a local Justice and Community Hub.”
The DUP man commended all those who supported the campaign to retain the courthouse.
Also welcoming the Minister’s announcement that the court will be staying open, Lagan Valley UUP MLA Jenny Palmer said: “This is a very good day for local justice. It was always obvious to me and to the people of Lisburn and Lagan Valley that closing Lisburn Courthouse was a short-sighted decision motivated by cost cutting rather than rooted in the proper administration of justice.
“I welcome the new Minister’s acknowledgement of what we already knew; that Lisburn Courthouse is a vital local institution whose service is needed in Lagan Valley. She has made the right decision for Lisburn and Lagan Valley, which is to be commended.”
DUP Assemblyman Paul Givan added: “I welcome the intervention made by the Justice Minister in respect of the retention of Lisburn Courthouse following a prolonged period of uncertainty. I commend the efforts made by Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council who vigorously opposed and challenged the proposed closure of the courthouse and also the legal profession within Lisburn who also lobbied ferociously.
“An opportunity has arisen to not only retain the court but to invest further in the courthouse building to help create long term sustainability that might include a wider facility for the community.”
His party colleague, Edwin Poots, a member of the former Justice Committee, said he “strongly welcomed” the Minister’s move to reverse the previous decision taken by David Ford.
“We identified that the savings that would be made by closing Lisburn Courthouse were fractional compared to the negative impact it would have on the many people, including vulnerable families, who use the court,” he said.