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Armagh courthouse to remain open as Justice Department perform major U-turn

Armagh courthouse will be retained with Justice Minister Claire Sugden overturning the decision made by her predecessor David Ford.

It’s a complete U-turn by the Department, which had  earmarked one of the city’s most iconic buildings for closure.

Minister Sugden said: “Having considered representations from the community and in light of a number of developments, including Lord Justice Gillen’s Review of Civil and Family Justice and the new Programme for Government focus on problem solving Justice, I do not consider that it would be appropriate to proceed with the proposed closures at this time.

“Recognising the need to rationalise the court estate, however, I must ensure that when moving forward we have sufficient flexibility to deliver better outcomes for the community through reform and innovation.

“I have asked the NI Courts and Tribunals Service, working with the Lord Chief Justice, to consider the requirements of the court estate in the context of a changing justice environment, mindful that facilities must meet the needs of those using our courts and in particular that the needs of victims and witnesses.”

Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy said he was delighted with what is the right decision.

“I welcome the Minister’s statement and, in particular, the decision to retain the historic courthouse in Armagh City,” said Mr Kennedy.

“This is a sensible decision which will be warmly welcomed by my constituents and come as an enormous relief to everyone in the Armagh area, particularly those who are employed at the Courthouse or use it for professional purposes.

“I hope that it will not be a temporary reprieve pending the outcome of the Courts 2020 review announced by the Minister, and I have urged the Minister to take the opportunity to pursue with her officials the possibility of using Armagh Courthouse as a venue for “problem solving courts” to help maximise its use.”

Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has also welcomed the announcement by the Justice Minister to reverse the decision.

He said: “The overwhelming majority of people who participated in the consultation argued the case for the courthouse to remain open. The legal professions, political representatives and indeed the public expressed major concerns in relation to the closure.

“I worked alongside the legal profession to respond to this consultation, Armagh Sinn Féin responded to the consultation and encouraged all interested parties to take part.  We also met with representatives from the legal profession and the public and made representations to the then Justice Minister David Ford concerning the future use of the building.

“I’m glad common sense has prevailed and that the needs of the people of the area are now being valued more than the tiny amount of savings that would be made closing the courthouse.

“Sinn Féin will continue to work with the Minister to ensure we have sufficient flexibility to meet the needs of those using our courts and in particular the needs of victims and witnesses.”

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty added: ‘This decision is a victory for local people on the ground who rallied and campaigned against the closure of the Armagh courthouse.

“The plan was a misguided cost-saving exercise that would have unfairly and disproportionately disadvantaged rural communities.  Armagh has already been unjustly and repeatedly targeted for cuts to frontline services and has been starved from any meaningful Government investment for decades.’

“The removal of our courthouse would have spelled disaster for many local legal businesses and people who rely on regular access to legal services. The Executive should explain why they felt the need to put them through the wringer when it appears the new Justice Minister has been able to halt the closure with relative ease.

“I want to applaud the tremendous positive campaign led by the legal profession based in Armagh who fought so hard to save our Court House – their loud voice has been listened to.”

Councillor Mealla Campbell reiterated her party colleague, saying: “The announcement is a complete u-turn by this new Minister and I welcome her decision.  Her predecessor David Ford had earmarked the building for closure with little regard for access to justice, the impact on those who use the courts service nor indeed for the historic nature of the building.

“The previous Minister looked at future costs, but didn’t look at the millions spent to improving the building in recent years and without any idea what would happen to the building in the future.

“This decision is to be welcomed, it is the right decision and Minister Sugden should be commended for this.  I want her to affirm that this is not just a pause on this process but that she will ensure the building will remain as a court house for many years to come.

“This is a victory for common sense, for the legal profession in Armagh and for all those who came together to fight for the retention of the Court House in Armagh and I commend all involved.”

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