Ballymena courthouse stays open

Ballymena Courthouse. INBT02-213AC
Ballymena Courthouse. INBT02-213AC

Ballymena Courthouse is to remain open, the Justice Minister has confirmed.

Claire Sugden MLA made the announcement in the Assembly chamber today (Tuesday).

Her predecessor, David Ford MLA, had been pushing ahead with plans for the closure of the courthouses in Armagh, Ballymena, Lisburn, Strabane, Limavady and Magherafelt.

Mr Ford told the Assembly that his decision was based on “unprecedented financial pressures” and the underuse of the 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.”

The legal fraternity throughout the province had already registered its opposition to the plan and their stance received unanimous support from local politicians.

Ballymena-based DUP assemblyman, Paul Frew who was appointed as Stormont Justice Committee chairman in the wake of this year’s elections was one of those who had expressed grave disquiet with the Ford plan.

So, when the Minister came to present to the Justice Committee before summer recess Mr. Frew made a point of raising the courthouse closures with the Minister and her most senior staff .

It is believed there have been discussions with the Justice Minister and the Chairman over several weeks.

The Ballymena Times had asked Mr. Frew for a comment on weekend speculation but he had been unable to confirm or deny the reversal move.

However, speaking today, he said the Minister’s decision was to be welcomed by everyone who believes in the local justice system.

“It is no secret that I have been lobbying to this effect for some time and I am glad to see this terrible move reversed,” he said.