Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service challenged by Estate Strategy

THE Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) must address the issue of an Estate Strategy, as it is unlikely there will be the capital funding available to deliver on proposed changes to the current courts’ estate. 

This is the conclusion of a Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report published today (Tuesday 1 May 2012) of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service: An inspection of the adequacy of the Courts’ Estate.
Deputy Chief Inspector, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, Brendan McGuigan said; “There are many challenges to providing high quality courthouses that are accessible and meet the needs of users now and in the future but what is plain is that a pragmatic solution and a realistic way forward must be sought.”
The report acknowledged that the Courts Service recognised the requirement for an Estate Strategy and commissioned a consultancy report completed in 2009, to review the current estate and identify a range of options for consideration.
“It is unlikely that there will be £75 million forthcoming from the DoJ’s budget, for the preferred option of the development of three ‘super courts’ and six ‘satellite’ venues as recommended in the consultancy report.”
The inspection report found that the NICTS faces serious challenges at around half of its court venues and the transfer for the overall responsibility for the support of a number of tribunals, including infrastructure, to the NICTS has compounded the issue. 
“Although the estate is valued at over £200 million with £44 million being spent in the last eight years our analysis of the current court estate shows considerable variations in the quality of the facilities available,” said Mr McGuigan. 
“Under utilisation of some court houses and the high maintenance costs incurred in certain areas means there is a compelling argument for an Estate Strategy which considers the overall nature of court provision and the different options that might be suitable going forward.” 
The NICTS are already consulting on the possible closure of five courthouses that currently open for limited periods each week. 
Mr McGuigan also identified that, “the NICTS approach to estate management had centred mainly on reactive maintenance informed by local managers and upgrades driven by availability of funding rather than a development strategy. 
“Combining this with attempts to meet statutory compliance and corporate user standards at every court venue resulted in an estate that reflected historical locations with facilities limited by the poor fabric of many of the court properties.”
In conclusion he said that, “By accepting that the demand for improved access to facilities, better provision of special measures and higher quality accommodation cannot be met at every court venue the NICTS must develop an appropriate and affordable Estate Strategy.”