Association President, Diarmuid O’Shea, recently received a letter from the Courts Service stating that it has embarked on ‘a detailed evaluation’ of the court venues of Skibbereen, Clonakilty and Kinsale.
Voicing dismay and opposition, Diarmuid queried if the evaluation was also on the future existence of the district court lists for the three areas, since sittings of Kinsale Court for example, have been held in Bandon courthouse for over one year, despite major efforts to find a suitable venue for its return to the harbour town.
In the letter dated September 3rd, regional manager Eamonn Kiely pointed out in common with other public sector bodies, the Courts Service was continually reviewing all aspects of its organisation against the background of ‘a very difficult challenging economic environment’ and the moratorium on recruitment.
In ensuring an appropriate level of service to court users, the Courts Service kept the number of venues it maintained under continuous review but with no court venue being singled out or exempt from the process, he stressed.
The Courts Service, he continued, recently completed a comprehensive review of all venues in Ireland, the purpose of which was to assess all venues which should be considered for closure based on an open and transparent set of criteria directly related to the future viability of each. (It’s understood this included marks allocated regarding the number of cases heard, the physical condition of the venue, ownership, proximity to an alternative venue, staff at the location, availability of cells, accessibility and technical facilities).
The regional manager emphasised that the identification of venues as part of the review process would not necessarily mean that these would close. ‘The assessment which will be undertaken will be informed by a consultation process with local court users and other interested parties’, he stressed.
At its meeting on June 25th, said Mr Kiely, the Courts Service Board approved the methodology adopted and agreed that it should proceed with a detailed evaluation of each venue that had been identified for potential closure.
‘Each venue will be considered on an individual basis by the Board with a business case being prepared in respect of each proposed closure. The final decision will be a matter for the Board’, he stated and pointed out that the Board also approved a local consultation process.
The Courts Service letter informed the Bar Association that it was now embarking on a detailed evaluation of the court venues of Skibbereen, Clonakilty and Kinsale and welcomed comments from legal practitioners not later than September 28th, which happens to be the same weekend as the Association hosts the major conference at Inchydoney.
As president of the Association and a solicitor for 30 years, Diarmuid O’Shea said his initial reaction was one of deep concern and total opposition to any further cutbacks in West Cork, the largest District Court area in the country and he questioned the logic of what was under consideration in a sprawling and mainly rural geographical area.
‘If all three locations up for evaluation – two of which, Clonakilty and Skibbereen, have purpose-built courthouses – were to close, it would mean there would only be court venues in Bandon, Macroom and Bantry. In recent years, we’ve witnessed the closing of court venues in Castletownbere, Glengarriff, Schull, Coachford, Dunmanway and Millstreet, while Kinsale sittings, which not long ago, increased from one to two sittings a month, has been in Bandon for over year at great inconvenience and cost to all practitioners and parties.
He also voiced strong opposition to any move to subsume the court lists of Skibbereen, Clonakilty and Kinsale into Bantry or Bandon, similar to that which occurred with the former and very heavy courts of Carrigaline and Ballincollig into Anglesea Street, Cork in the adjoining District Court area.
‘It’s not on the official programme but it’s an issue that’s bound to be a big talking point at our conference and our Association will most certainly be taking it up with the Department of Justice and Law Reform and the Courts Service,’ Diarmuid added.