Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Questions (160)

Michael Healy-Rae


160. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding the closure of courts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50912/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy may be aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998 management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions, which include the provision of accommodation for court sittings.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and have been informed that the Courts Service has been reviewing all aspects of its organisational and operational structures throughout the country with the specific objective of ensuring that the Service can continue to maintain the delivery of front line court services and an appropriate level of service to court users. I understand that no court venue has been singled out for or indeed exempted from the review process. There are significant costs in operating and maintaining an extensive estate of properties around the country, both in terms of the staff who must attend these locations and the cost of maintaining the buildings themselves and providing appropriate facilities in them. In allocating resources the Courts Service must prioritise venues which are regularly used and which have the highest workload.

During the course of 2012 the Courts Service completed a comprehensive review of all venues throughout the country. The purpose of this review was to establish a framework within which venues could be considered for closure taking account of a range of criteria such as caseload, proximity to an alternative venue, physical condition of the building, availability of cells etc. This review identified a range of venues nationwide which based on the criteria applied could be considered for closure subject to a detailed assessment and the preparation of a business case in respect of each identified venue. In this regard, the Courts Service has indicated that the identification of venues as part of the review process will not necessarily mean that the identified venues will close.

I am informed that the Courts Service in considering any venue for closure undertakes an analysis of the costs associated with the holding of court sittings in a venue. This includes an assessment of both operational costs, such as courthouse maintenance and lighting & heating, and travel and subsistence costs in respect of the judiciary, courts staff and Gardaí. The Courts Service has assured me no decision in relation to the future of any court venue will be taken without prior consultation with local interested parties and court users. This consultation process has commenced and the views expressed in that process will be taken into account in the decision making process which will be a matter for the Courts Service Board.