Court closures threaten access to justice for all citizens

The Law Society of Ireland is highlighting serious concerns about the impact of justice system cuts which have resulted in the closure of dozens of courts across the country.

Law Society director general Ken Murphy said, “Since 2008, 77 local courts have been closed down – a rate of over 12 per year – and still more courts are facing closure in the near future. The rationalisation of the courts service has gone beyond what is sensible and justified and poses a threat to the very fabric of our justice system.”

“We all might need to use the courts one day. Access to justice is being damaged by the current cuts to key elements of the justice system such as the Court Services Board, which has had its budget and staff reduced by 40 per cent.”

“Even in low-population areas, I would question how much money is actually saved by closing the doors of the courthouses. For example, in Skibbereen – where the West Cork Bar Association has brought judicial review proceedings against the Courts Service to prevent the closure of the District Court – the cost of keeping the court open is estimated at €8,000 annually. If it is closed, what additional costs will the State incur when a member of An Garda Siochána or the HSE has to travel a considerable distance and spend an entire day away from their regular duties?”

“In Mayo alone, where once there were fourteen courts, only four remain in operation. One court, in Westport, is waiting for funding for vital upgrades so that it can be used again.”

“As the number of closures mount, the Courts Service is moving from the “low-hanging fruit” of closing courts in rural, low-population areas to very questionable closures in high-population areas. For example, a proposal is now being prepared for the closure of the District Courts in Dún Laoghaire, Tallaght, Swords and Balbriggan – in effect, all but one of the suburban court sitting venues in Dublin.”

“By far the largest concentration of population in the country will be affected if this proposal becomes a reality. There would be no court venue between Bray and the north bank of the Liffey. Tallaght and its surrounding area, which has a far greater population than Limerick (greater by over 20,000 people), will have no court. Swords and Balbriggan, two of the fastest-growing population centres in the country, will have no court.”

“It is clear that the issue of access to justice for citizens is not being taken into consideration by those implementing this short-sighted and flawed policy. Our courts provide a service to citizens at a time when they are vulnerable. Closing so many of our local courts amounts to a threat to these citizens in particular, who may require the urgent assistance of a District Court, such as in a domestic violence situation. We need to ensure people in these situations get the help and protection they need.”