Closure of four Dublin courts would have cost too much money
A PROPOSED root and branch reorganisation of Dublin's district courts has been shelved because it would have cost too much money.
That's the truth of it, which is amusing considering that just last June the Court Services said the changes would be cost neutral and were about using existing resources better, in a climate of reduced staffing levels.
Under the plan, it was proposed to centralise all criminal business in the Criminal Courts of Justice on Parkgate Street.
Traffic cases would go to Blanchardstown courthouse, while the courthouses in Swords, Dun Laoghaire, Balbriggan and Tallaght would be closed.
However, in a statement yesterday the Courts Service admitted the plan would have resulted in greater costs "across the justice sector and be organisationally challenging for other agencies in the sector".
D'oh, as Homer would say.
I have been a court reporter for over a decade, and it is obvious to even a neutral observer that such wide-ranging court closures in Dublin were going to cost more money than they would save, mostly to An Garda Siochana.
At present, local superintendents do not pay gardai if they are attending a court within three miles of their station.
However, if a garda is attending a court more than three miles away from his station in the city centre, he or she is entitled to €12.86 subsistence if he is away for five hours, or €21.86, for eight hours.
So it's good news for An Garda Siochana resources that the courthouses will remain open.
Even forgetting about the money, moving all criminal business to the CCJ would have taken gardai out of the very areas they are directed to police.
Officers would instead spend time sitting in the CCJ waiting for cases to be heard, escorting prisoners into the CCJ or waiting for bench warrants to be executed.
Is it an exaggeration to say that fewer gardai visible in the suburbs would have resulted in an increase in crime in those areas?
True or not, the perception amongst the public is that there is less crime when gardai are visible on the streets.
At least, gardai will now be around their local areas.
The scrapping of plans to close the courthouses is also good news for those who regularly use them.
The news was warmly greeted by the solicitors in Blanchardstown courthouse, where I was yesterday.
Justice will continue to be seen to be done on a local level. Criminals who steal from local shops in Dun Laoghaire or Swords or Tallaght will continue to get their punishment from the local judge in the local courthouse.
It's also likely that less cases will be struck out due to the non-appearance of a witness. If you are a victim or a witness to a crime, you are probably more likely to go to your local courthouse than into the CCJ in the city centre, which is more hassle, in terms of time and cost.
Looking at the wider picture, the effects of the recession are obvious to anyone who walks down one of the streets in Swords, Tallaght, Dun Laoghaire or Balbriggan.
Courts help bring business to a town. Gardai, solicitors, reporters, even the defendants, all shop in local stores, helping to support local businesses.
In the last five years, many communities have seen the demise of the local bank, the local post office, and the local garda station.
It is fantastic that the local court has been saved - at least for now.