Closure of courthouse to be reconsidered after new findings

An order requiring the Courts Service to reconsider its decision allowing the closure of Skibbereen courthouse has been approved by the High Court.

The West Cork Bar Association and six local solicitors have argued that a decision to close the courthouse in 2013 was tainted by errors of fact with regards to the savings which could be made if the courthouse were to cease being used.

Mr Justice Séamus Noonan said that there was no dispute that savings figures put before the Courts Service Board were “manifestly mistaken”.

He said that a report given in September 2013 suggested three different annual cost savings figures of €15,783, €8,000 and €13,168. And while the figures were relatively small, two of which, if not all three, were wrong.

The judge noted that if the mistake had been noticed at the time, a different decision may have been reached.

The aim of closing courthouses across the country is about determining if savings can be made in the allocation of funding.

If closing the courthouse would result in a cost to the Courts Service, then that could not be said to be a beneficial use of resources. If, on the other hand, closure was predicated on savings being made, then it was difficult to see that the amount of any such saving could not be material to that decision, he said.

The errors of fact in this case were “fatal” to the closure decision, he ruled.

The judge also upheld arguments by the solicitors that the Courts Service Board failed to give any reasons for its decision despite the consultation period lasting a number of years. A statement given upon the decision to close the courthouse gave no explanation of the findings and the association were said to be “left in the dark” about the consultation.

The judge refused to make an order directing the Courts Service to keep Skibbereen courthouse open, but said that he would quash the closure decision and direct the Courts Service Board to reconsider the matter in light of his findings.