8. Mr Ford asked the Minister of Justice to outline any discussions she has had with the Chief Constable and acting Director General of the Prison Service regarding additional costs falling to their organisations as a result of her decision to not proceed with the rationalisation of the court estate. (AQO 925/16-21)
While the anticipated saving will not be realised as a result of my decision not to close courthouses across Northern Ireland at this stage, there are no additional costs for the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Northern Ireland Prison Service. As I explained to the Assembly on 26 October, I reached my decision in the context of a changing justice environment as a result of the Executive's Programme for Government; the publication of the review of civil and family justice, published by Lord Justice Gillen; my focus on problem-solving justice; and the developing digital justice environment. In addition, I was conscious of the widespread concern in local communities about the adverse impacts that the closures would have on access to justice, many of which have been clearly articulated by Members across the House.
As I have previously explained, I want to allow time for proposals for alternative uses of court buildings to be developed in the context of the Courts 2020 review and for full public consultation to be undertaken. In addressing the Assembly on 26 October, I recognised the financial pressures facing the justice system. My Department will continue to work with the Chief Constable, the acting director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service to address the pressures within the financial constraints with which we all must operate.
Yes, I did.
Let me reiterate: I think that not closing these courthouses provides us with an opportunity to look at the wider justice system. I cannot say at the outset of Question Time that I am not willing to transform justice and then close courts for the sake of cutting the bottom line. The courthouses are not closing for now, but if I have a successor, they can make the decision to do that. I just hope they remind the electorate when they do.