Justice Minister, David Ford, was asked to explain the rationale of plans to close eight of Northern Ireland’s twenty court houses in the latest proposals to cut costs during today’s Question Time. The Minister contended that “In the context of a significant reduction in the funding available to my Department, it has been necessary to reduce budget allocations to all spending areas, including the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS). It is simply no longer sustainable to operate 20 courthouses in a place the size of Northern Ireland.” Mr Ford added that “the programme will involve a comprehensive review of current processes and practices, with a view to designing an enhanced, integrated and affordable service delivery model.” Having launched the consultation process the Minister is looking forward to receiving the views of the public and taking them into consideration before moving forward.
John Dallat also asked the Minister about his plans to tackle the increased levels of drugs found in Northern Ireland’s prisons. Mr Ford described the problem as “a societal issue and is a significant factor in offending behaviour.” As such it is a major problem for the entire criminal system and not just the prison service. The Prison Service attempt to address the issue via a three-pronged approach of ‘restrict supply, reduce demand and assist recovery’. The Minister argued that the increased discovery of drugs shows that the approach is working and the detection of contraband is becoming more successful. The Prison Service has also established a team to address the recommendations of the recent CJINI inspection report, 'The Safety of Prisoners Held by the Northern Ireland Prison Service'.
Also addressed during Question Time was the Policing Board budget, Policing and Community Safety Partnerships, legal aid and the National Crime Agency.