Worthingtons Solicitors are representing a Lisburn woman, who has won permission from the High Court to challenge the previous Justice Minister’s decision to close Lisburn Courthouse.
The case was heard recently on a preliminary basis by the court, along with two other cases, seeking to challenge decisions to close other courthouses in Ballymena and in Strabane.
In February, former Justice Minister David Ford MLA announced the closure of five courthouses - the three under challenge, along with Armagh and Magherafelt. In making his decision, Mr Ford cited unprecedented financial pressures, falling staff levels and under-usage of the court buildings themselves.
However, a central part of the case being made on behalf of the applicants in these judicial reviews is that the previous Minister, and the NI Courts and Tribunals Service, failed in their legal duty to properly consult, and to properly assess the impact of the proposals, before the Minister made his decision. The case is also being made that the closures will impact adversely upon the effectiveness of administration of justice and will lead to delays and over-crowding in our courthouses. This is because it is proposed that business from the courthouses earmarked for closure, will be transferred to other courthouses, some of which are already straining at capacity.
The case challenging the closure of Strabane Courthouse will be heard first by the High Court, at the end of October this year. In the meantime, all three of the courthouses are expected to remain open, at least until that case has been determined.
In granting permission for each case to proceed, Mr Justice Horner cited the significant public interest in play, in terms of the effect that the closures would have upon the administration of justice in Northern Ireland.
If you have been affected by some form of government action, failure to act, or a policy which can be demonstrated in some way to be unlawful, unreasonable or unfair, then you might be able to challenge such a matter by seeking a judicial review in the High Court, which has the power to, for example, overturn a decision or a policy on certain legal grounds.
Brian Moss is a solicitor in our Belfast office litigation department, where he specialises in judicial review litigation and disputes involving human rights issues in a wide range of areas.
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