Plans to move all criminal cases from Craigavon courthouse to Newry have been slammed by local solicitors.
Justice minister David Ford has proposed a complete reorganisation of the court system including plans to have only civil cases held at Craigavon court while all criminal cases, both magistrate and crown cases would be heard in Newry.
The plans involve a redrawing of court boundaries with only three main courts in Newry, Derry and Belfast. Craigavon courthouse would be reduced to a building dealing solely with civil matters, including family, youth and tribunals cases.
The Craigavon area would be in the South Eastern Region with Newry as the main courthouse. All work in Armagh would be transferred and the courthouse there closed. The proposals have sparked incredulity in the legal profession with solicitors perplexed.
Richard Monteith of the Portadown and Lurgan Solicitors’ Association said, “It is mind-numbing. As an association we are profoundly against these proposals.”
The rationalisation proposals are aimed at slashing 20 per cent off the justice budget, but Mr Monteith believes it will end up costing more.
He said his organisation was concerned about travelling costs and inconvenience for defendants, witnesses, solicitors and court staff to and from this area to Newry.
“If all the criminal court was moved to Newry, there are still only two court rooms that can cope with jury trials. It is out of the question that you can have four juries sitting in Newry. It is simply not possible.
“I question, without substantial expenditure, that you could even have three juries sitting in Newry. It makes no sense to the association that there would be any increased efficiency, increased bringing justice to a speedy conclusion in terms of the serious crown court matters.”
The association plans to make a submission to the minister pointing out the inconvenience to the public, the effect of moving court business and the impracticalities of practitioners having to move.
Mr Monteith pointed to the higher cost of legal aid with increased travel costs and the knock-on effect on justice as some clients not entitled to legal aid would find the increased costs prohibitive.
“We will be making a substantial submission that in terms of this proposal for Newry and Craigavon it is simply not feasible, not cost effective and is going to create difficulties for a large section of the community,” he said.