A DECISION to close Skibbereen courthouse has been over turned by the High Court.
The decision last Friday marks the end of a four-year legal battle by the West Cork Bar Association against the Courts Service’s plan.
Skibbereen-based solicitor, Colette McCarthy, who was the president of the Bar Association at the time the legal challenge was initiated, told The Southern Star: ‘This has been the culmination of years of hard work and dogged determination. We believed the Courts Service decision was unfair and fought it all the way, and we feel vindicated by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan’s ruling.’
In September 2012, the Courts Service wrote to the West Cork Bar Association saying it was investigating the potential closure of Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Kinsale courthouses, and moving them into the Cork sittings.
The Bar Association responded swiftly and, within a month, had sent the Courts Service a detailed dossier that contained submissions from a variety of interested organisations, politicians, and community groups. The Courts Service responded with a modified proposal, saying it was considering moving Skibbereen into the Bantry court sitting, and moving both Clonakilty and Kinsale into Bandon.
The West Cork Bar Association persisted in its fight and sent the Courts Service another report, estimating the additional cost to the State of moving Skibbereen court out of town. ‘We looked at everything, such as the proposed cost savings,’ said Ms McCarthy. We analysed their criteria (ie state of the repair of the building; lack of cells), and we outlined the consequences of the closure of the courthouse to the town. Providing the people of Skibbereen town and its surrounding areas with access to justice was also one of our main arguments.’
In 2013, the Courts Service proceeded with its decision to close Kinsale court. And it also announced that the courthouse in Skibbereen would close when the refurbishment of the courthouse in Clonakilty was finalised.
‘It was that 2013 decision that was the subject of the judicial review we brought before the High Court,’ said Ms McCarthy. The judicial review was heard in Cork in March, and Mr Justice Seamus Noonan delivered his judgment last Friday.
The judge quashed the Courts Service’s decision to close Skibbereen on the basis that errors had been made in respect of potential savings.
The West Cork Bar Association had obtained details of these amounts (three conflicting figures) under the Freedom of Information Act.
Furthermore, the West Cork Bar Association’s own research showed that the potential saving to the State of closing Skibbereen could be as low as €8,000 per annum.
‘With so many services being shut down throughout rural Ireland,’ Ms McCarthy said, ‘the West Cork Bar Association believed it was important to take a stand on behalf of the people of West Cork.’