A contested decision by the Courts Service to close Skibbereen courthouse has been halted after judicial review proceedings taken by local solicitors.
The High Court yesterday set aside the closure and referred the matter for “further consideration”.
The West Cork Bar Association said it was hugely relieved with the judgment and said it was “time to take a stand” against the closure of rural courthouses.
The Courts Service told the Irish Examiner it was “considering” the judgment. Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said the information used by the Courts Service to close the courthouse, particularly three differing sets of cost savings, was “manifestly mistaken” and “fatal” to the decision.
He also found that the West Cork Bar Association had been left in the dark by the Courts Service as to the reason for the decision to close. For both reasons, he set aside the closure decision and remitted the matter for further consideration.
Colette McCarthy of the West Cork Bar Association said they were “delighted and hugely relieved”.
“We see this as an acknowledgment and recognition of the needs of West Cork residents to access justice locally.”
A Skibbereen-based solicitor with Wolfe & Co, she said the association had challenged the decision of the Courts Service as they felt it was not justified.
The courthouse in Skibbereen is owned and managed by Cork County Council.
“With so many services being shut down throughout rural Ireland the West Cork Bar Association believed it was important to take a stand on behalf of the people of West Cork,” said Ms McCarthy.
“Having lost seven court venues in West Cork in recent years, our association is very aware of the implications for rural West Cork if the local courthouse is closed, as has been evidenced by the recent closure of Kinsale District Court.”
In his judgment, Mr Justice Noonan said the Courts Service had suffered “very significant reductions” in its budget since the economic collapse. He said a review in 2012 identified 41 courthouses for consideration for closure and a decision was made to close Skibbereen courthouse in October 2013.
The judge said there were three cost savings attributed to the closure of Skibbereen Courthouse: €15,783, €8,000, and €13,168 per annum.
Mr Justice Noonan said there was “no dispute” about the fact that an error was made on the savings.
“The material put before the board [of the Courts Service] before it reached its decision was manifestly mistaken,” he said.
He said three figures were given for ostensibly the same thing.
“Whilst it might be said the amounts involved were in absolute standards fairly modest, nonetheless the highest figure put forward was almost double the lowest. Clearly at least two of the figures were wrong and perhaps all three were wrong.
“In my view, therefore, the errors of fact made in this case must be viewed as fatal to the decision.”
A Courts Service statement said: “The Courts Service is considering the contents of the judgment.”
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