Inspectorate welcomes work to improve use of courts estate
Steps taken by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) to ensure court buildings are less costly, better utilised and meet the requirements of their users have been welcomed in a new report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).
A follow-up review published today (1 July 2015) found three strategic and three operational recommendations had been fully achieved, with a further four recommendations partially achieved since the publication of CJI's original report on the adequacy of the courts estate in Northern Ireland in 2012.
"At that time Inspectors found the NICTS faced serious challenges at around half of its court venues. The quality of the existing facilities varied considerably and the transfer of responsibility for a number of tribunals and their infrastructure, from a variety of Northern Ireland Civil Service departments to the NICTS, compounded the issue," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Inspectors support the actions taken over the last three years by the NICTS to close a number of outdated, expensive, under-used courthouses and hearing centres and would urge management to make any future decisions around rationalisation of the courts estate on affordability and need.
"We also welcome the work undertaken by the NICTS to bring forward proposals to create three new court divisions. This work maximises opportunities for existing accommodation to be shared with other Department of Justice bodies, while ensuring the facilities best meet the needs of those who use them and fulfil statutory requirements," said the Chief Inspector.
Plans to establish a single court jurisdiction for County Courts and Magistrates' Courts in Northern Ireland have also been welcomed as a way of increasing the flexibility of the courts estate.
"With utilisation rates falling from 67% at the time of the initial inspection to 56% when the follow-up review was carried out and the combined cost of maintenance and upgrading work to ensure court buildings meet modern standards exceeding the resources available to the NICTS, retaining the current estates infrastructure is simply no longer an option," concluded Mr McGuigan.