The closure of Limavady courthouse is likely to take place after Spring 2014, when Justice Minister David Ford hopes to introduce a Bill to the NI Assembly.
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service in 2011 announced their plans to permanently close five hearing centres across Northern Ireland - namely Limavady, Strabane, Bangor, Larne and Magherafelt.
Following a period of consultation, Justice Minister David Ford decided in November 2012 to close the Hearing Centres at Bangor, Larne, Limavady and Magherafelt but retain the Hearing Centre in Strabane.
The closure had been planned to take place during 2013 as a Bill to change the court boundaries system was introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Responding to a query from local MLA George Robinson, the Minister said: “Limavady courthouse is not scheduled to close until after the reform of court boundaries and the creation of a single jurisdiction for County Court and Magistrates’ Court business. The reform of court boundaries is planned within the forthcoming faster, fairer justice Bill.” At the time, the Minister suggested the Bill would be introduced in 2013, although he now admits it is unlikely to take place until “Spring 2014”. Responding to a query from DUP MLA Maurice Morrow, Mr Ford said: “Provisions for the creation of a single territorial jurisdiction for the county courts and magistrates’ courts in Northern Ireland will be included in the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill. It is intended that the Bill will be introduced in Spring 2014.”
Until then, Limavady courthouse is unlikely to close.
A determined campaign of opposition to the plans to close Limavady courthouse was fought locally, under the campaign slogan ‘local justice for local people.’
Lead by local solicitors and politicians and backed by significant numbers of ordinary members of the public, critics of the closure plans pointed to the potential for costs to spiral when travel expenses and other considerations were taken into account. Speaking to the Sentinel last year, DUP MLA George Robinson explained his opposition to the closure of Limavady courthouse: “I thoroughly disagree with the Minister’s assertion that it will be considerably cheaper to close Limavady when you consider the closure will involve additional Police hours to travel to court cases and expenses incurred by legal representatives which may be passed on to the public purse via legal aid.” He added: “Finances are important but the consequences of closing Limavady cannot be justiﬁed on a ﬁnancial argument.” Mr Robinson also expressed disappointment that “this vital access point for local people to access the legal system is to be removed without any consideration of how it could be used in the future for the beneﬁt of the Limavady Borough.”
The Justice Minister, however, said that the plans to close the courthouse would save a considerable amount of money by removing the need for an upgrade to the courthouse in order to bring it into line with disablity requirements.