District Court Judge Sean MacBride has told The Anglo-Celt that he is totally opposed to the closure of the court sittings in Virginia, Ballyconnell and Clones in his District Number 5 as part of an ongoing review by the Courts Service.
They are among 40 district court sittings outside of Dublin, including Kells District Court, that are earmarked for possible closure, though no decision has been taken as of yet.
The news of the possible closures was first revealed exclusively in this week's Anglo-Celt newspaper.
Judge MacBride told the Celt that the first he became aware of the position was just before Christmas when he was handed two reports. The reports have methodology where they identify venues to be considered for closure. The methodology was very scientific - it seemed to be based a lot on case loads and the number of sittings and a criteria drawn up by the committee itself.
This entails the condition of the building, ownership, the geographical distance from a venue proposed to be closed and the alternative venue. This, however, would not give an accurate assessment as it does not take into account the distance, for example, from Dowra to Cavan town were Ballyconnell District Court to be tranferred into Cavan Town.
They also looked at facilities such as IT and if it was available in current venues and cells for the accommodation of prisoners. "I don't think there is a cell in the courthouse in Cavan, they are brought in from the prison van. That argument would not hold with Virginia."
The review committee were marking out of 20 taking in case count 0 to 20, physical condition 0-20, ownership 0-5, proximity to alternative venue 0-4, staff at the location 0-4, cells 0-4, accessibility 0-3, and technical facilities 0-2.
"In their marking system, Virginia score very highly and there are almost 3,000 cases disposed of annually there." Virginia scored 19 points. Only Balbriggan in Dublin and Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary scored higher.
Ballyconnell scored four out of ten for physical condition, case count - two, it got nil for cells, accessibility, ownership and proximity to other venues. "It is a very artificial way of marking it," the judge added.
Clones scored eight out of ten for the psychical condition of the building, three for accessibility.
Ballyconnell scored very poorly, it is a very good build, but on other criteria but because of the small case count at just over 300, only scores four points.
"I will be making a constructive and detailed submission and I am preparing one at the minute. I would want a list of cases going back four years."
Consultations are to take place with the presiding judge, local practitioners, gardaí, the Probation Service, Prison Service and other court users.
If they closed both Ballyconnell and Virginia, Judge MacBride believed there would be a logistical expenses involved in getting gardaí from their local stations to Cavan and also taking them away from the communities in which they are based for longer periods of time.
There would also be listing problems. "I can see great logistical difficulties in operating out of the one venue. You would have to have dedicated days reserved solely for certain areas."
There were 240 district court venues when the Courts Services was established in 1999, according to Judge MacBride. The figure now stands at 100 venues and they are seeking to cut it back further now to just 60.
"To my mind Ballyconnell justified itself." The reasons there was a low case count there are due to the rural area concerned where the people are very law abiding and co-operate with the Gardaí who solve a lot of serious crime.
It was important that those who have to travel to courts from rural areas have access to justice and are able to get there, added Judge MacBride.
"With regard to Virginia, it is mind boggling." You have a separate garda division based in Bailieborough, the judge pointed out, and there are a large number of big towns in the catchment area like Kingscourt, Bailieborough, Ballyjamesduff, Kilnaleck and Mullagh.
It is a very busy court and it had proved itself without doubt, said the judge. It is IT friendly, there is a consultation room, wheelchair access and the only thing it doesn't have is access to cells but neither does Cavan courthouse, Judge MacBride points out.
"I have to prepare my submission yet. I have contacted the Cavan Bar Association and I have no doubt they are opposed to the proposal, while the gardaí would have reservations about the plan and they will be making their observations known."