My submission to the Courts Service’s Review of Dublin Courthouses, sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org:
18th June 2014.
I am strongly opposed to the proposed closure of Dún Laoghaire Courthouse.
Notwithstanding the contents of your press release of the 4th inst., I believe that this decision is being made solely to shore-up the Criminal Courts of Justice and to ensure there is enough business to occupy what is an extremely expensive building.
The consequences of this short-sighted decision will be brought to bear on the sub-urban communities of Dublin and will impact heavily on individual local businesses in places like Dún Laoghaire and the local economy there, without achieving any great saving or organisational efficiency for the Courts Service.
The Courts Service’s own internal report, prepared by the Chief Clerk of the District Court, Tom Ward, assesses the monetary saving of the closure of Dún Laoghaire Courthouse to be less than €40,000, and that figure does not account for the further costs that will be incurred as a result of the building being left vacant, i.e. security, insurance, maintenance, etc. The building is wholy owned by the Courts Service, so there is no rental saving to be made, and there is not a market for such a building to be let in Dún Laoghaire (when it adjoins the Garda Station) or sold.
This small saving is significantly outweighed by the cost-impacts the closure will have on other state and private bodies such as An Garda Síochána and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, inter alia.
Of the four out-lying district courthouses in Dublin (Dún Laoghaire, Tallaght, Balbriggan and Swords), Dún Laoghaire is the only one with a Court office. This means that it is capable of dealing with significantly more business than its counterparts, and to process cases in ease of the offices in the CCJ, Four Court, Phoenix House, Dolphin House and the Bridewell, thereby achieving a real efficiency.
The closure of Dún Laoghaire Courthouse will have a substantial effect on the local economy. Several small businesses in Dún Laoghaire town and the environs depend on the business that comes from court users and staff. It is well known that the Dún Laoghaire local economy is already suffering and the closure of the Courthouse will be yet another blow. Again, this economic role is played without cost to the Courts Service and it would be irresponsible to close the Courthouse in the circumstances, particularly when there is such a paltry saving to be made.
Dún Laoghaire District Court deals with the full range of cases, from criminal matters to licensing, to child care to family matters. It is an important economic engine within Dún Laoghaire town.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council
The closure of Dún Laoghaire Courthouse will leave Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown without any Courts Service facilities at all, despite the fact that the county has a more than sufficient population to justify them. Cork County, for example, despite being of similar population to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, has four operational courthouses, in addition to significant provision in Cork City.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has statutory obligations to prosecute certain offences. This is currently done predominantly through Dún Laoghaire District Court where the Council’s Law Agent, in-house solicitors, staff, management, authorised agents (such as wardens, enforcement officers, experts and others), external solicitors, witnesses, and counsel, are all within easy reach of each other. This allows for smooth and efficient conduct of the Council’s court business, but this proposal would mean that those disparate elements would be far away from each other and much less easily put in contact in the event of any court issue arising.
Furthermore, there will be a significant increase in costs for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council from the point of view of the prosecution of offences: officers and staff involved in prosecution will have much further to travel and therefore will be out of the office and unavailable for work for much longer periods, and travel will have to be paid for witnesses and other necessary participants, who will also have further to travel.
An Garda Síochána
The proposal to close the Court will have an immediate impact on Garda time and availability in Dún Laoghaire and surrounding areas. We have already witnessed eth closure of three Garda stations in our area: Kill o’ the Grange, Dalkey and Stepaside, and this measure will further remove Gardaí from local communities, since Gardaí from all stations in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will be required to travel to the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) in Parkgate Street for ordinary criminal matters and Blanchardstown Courthouse for road traffic matters.
The estimated travel time from Dún Laoghaire Garda Station to the CCJ is 45 minutes and to Blanchardstown Courthouse is up to 90 minutes. A Garda who is required to attend court will have to spend twice those times travelling to and from Court. That is time when that Garda could be available for other duties.
When a person who is required to attend court fails to do so, having a local court means that the task of bringing that person to court (on foot of a bench warrant or other means) is straightforward, cost-effective and time-efficient. The closure of a local courthouse will mane execution of bench warrants will become slow, cumbersome and expensive.
Courts Service obligations to its users
The stated mission of the Courts Service is “to provide a high-quality and professional service to all users of the Courts”. Closure of the Courthouse will also have a significant impact on court users, particularly in sensitive areas like family law, where parties will now have to travel into Dubiln City Centre to have their cases heard. This will not improve efficiencies as it will add to already busy city-centre District Courts, as well as imposing financial hardship and unnecessary stress on vulnerable court users.
Dún Laoghaire District Court deals with children’s issues, from both criminal and child-protection standpoints. Moving the Children’s Court that currently sits in Dún Laoghaire into Smithfiled, in the North Inner City, will expose vulnerable children to much more serious offenders, influences and risks.
There is already a significant incidence of issuance of bench warrants across all criminal courts. Making it more difficult for court users to get to court will undoubtedly have a further, negative impact on the incidence of non-appearance by court users. Bench warrants are costly and time-consuming for both Gardaí and the Courts Service, and everything should be done to reduce their number.
In any contested case, evidence is required and witnesses must attend. Frequently, in criminal cases, alleged injured parties have to attend to give evidence of having been the victim of the alleged crime. Making it more difficult to get to court by moving the court far away will necessarily decrease the chances that an alleged injured party will attend court at all.
An obvious example of this is where the owner of property that has allegedly been stolen, is required to attend court to give evidence that it was taken without permission. Frequently, these witnesses are retail business owners who have precious little time to spend in court. Moving the District Court out of Dún Laoghaire will inevitable have a negative impact on the rate for conviction for this kind of pervasive, petty crime.
The policy of the Courts Service, to separate different categories of criminal matter, must be re-examined. While there is an argument for have specialist courts that deal with regulatory matters, minor matters, or very specialist offences like drink driving, the idea that regulatory crime, road traffic crime and all other crime will be seperated into different buildings and parts of the city, comes dangerously close to a judgement being passed, on classes of offences, by a state agency, to the effect that, for example, road traffic crime or regulatory crime are less important that “ordinary” crime.
I would ask you to think very carefully before deciding to close Dún Laoghaire Courthouse. It is more than just a court building; it provides an important function for a local community and a local economy and it actually improves the service that your organisation provides.
Barry Ward BL
Member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council