The Courts Service said “several sites” are still under consideration for a new court complex in Kerry which would allow facilities for juries, video conferencing, family law and other matters.
The statement comes amid increasing concern that Kerry is to lose its higher court sittings, including jury trials altogether and that remote district courts are also under threat.
Since the pandemic, all district courts, including those from Killarney, Kenmare, and Caherciveen, have moved to the 19th century courthouse in Tralee because of the requirements for social distancing and they continue to sit there.
However facilities there too are limited. Just 19 persons including the judge and registrar can be accommodated in the circuit room in Tralee, and there is no room for a jury.
Killarney Circuit Court this week where civil and non jury matters were for hearing, was told that judges are likely to be available countrywide for jury trials in September – a month ahead of the normal schedule. However, Judge Helen Boyle acknowledged to Tom Rice, prosecutor for the State, that in Kerry there may be more “logistical difficulties” to overcome than judges availability.
This was in reference to the lack of facilities in Kerry which has for years sought a new court complex, but has not been able to agree on a suitable site.
The Killarney Circuit Court also heard this week from barrister Katie O’Connell how a sensitive and serious matter of sexual assault involving two minors was unlikely to proceed in the Kerry Circuit because of lack of video link facilities. No Kerry courthouse has such facilities and “will have to go to a county equipped to deal with it,” Ms O’Connell said.
That trial along with other jury trials from Kerry are set to move to the new court complex in Limerick.
Currently all District Court sittings are taking place in Tralee, sparking concern they may never return to the outlying towns.
A senior legal person who asked not to be named said there is mounting concern:
“If Kerry doesn’t get a proper courthouse capable of hosting victim support, jury, family law as well as criminal and civil – there is real risk the sittings will move to the new complexes in Limerick and Cork. Those from south Kerry could go to Cork, and matters from north Kerry would move to Limerick.”
Amid opposition on the ground to the use of the Tralee town centre Denny site, in the Island of Geese, for a court complex, observers are saying the Department of Defence owned army barracks at Ballymullen on the edge of Tralee is the best option.
“Ballymullen is essentially a greenfield site with plenty of parking and good access,” he said.
Other legal practioners said that as well as loss of revenue to Kerry, the loss of the courts would entail extra garda and witness expenses to the State, and the end of Kerry juries who are renowned for being tough and unpredictable, and sometimes eccentric.
Amid lack of agreement in Tralee, and a sense of urgency, a number of sites in Killarney previously looked at by the courts service may again be in the running.
The courts service said: “Kerry is listed for upgrading as part of the current national development plan. The decision to which site will be used is still under consideration. Several sites have been examined and are under consideration.”