Check against Delivery
Address by Mr. Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Justice and Equality,
at the official opening of Wexford Courthouse 19 February 2018
Chief Justice, members of the judiciary, fellow Oireachtas members, Chairman of Wexford County Council, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here in Wexford on this landmark day – the official opening of a new state of the art courthouse, which was originally built as the Tate School back in 1867. As a solicitor in practice in Portlaoise for many years, I know this is a significant day for the local legal community. And from a wider community perspective, I am keenly aware of the importance of the local courthouse.
This is the third courthouse opening I’ve had the pleasure to attend in my capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality. I was delighted to open the Drogheda Courthouse last year with then Chief Justice, Susan Denham, and just last week I had a pleasure of opening Letterkenny Courthouse with Mr. Justice Frank Clarke, who had settled into the role of Chief Justice bringing with him great vigour and vision.
The new Wexford Courthouse is a combination of new and old as a modern extension of a landmark building which represents an important element of the mid nineteenth-century architectural legacy of Wexford. It is great to see how the new building and the refurbishment of the existing building provides modern facilities for this historic county town while contributing to the ongoing regeneration and evolution of Wexford. The completed building, with its prominent form and location, is the latest civic addition to the historic and evolving fabric of Wexford Town and should contribute to the life of the town for many years into the future.
Wexford, like other courthouses, engages daily with citizens dealing with criminal, civil and family law in both the District and Circuit Court. In 2016 alone, over 11,200 matters across 194 court sitting days have been dealt with by the District Court sitting in both Wexford town and Gorey. In addition, the Circuit Court dealt with over 660 matters across 153 court sitting days.
For some a court can be an intimidating place as so often the courthouse is a place where life changing decisions occur. The court deals with many different, complex and sensitive issues that affect people’s lives and so to have a local courthouse, a place that is accessible, modern and user-friendly, is really important. Therefore, user facilities such as a vulnerable witness suite, victim support room, legal practitioners room, enhanced custody facilities, jury reception room, media room and consultation rooms are a welcome addition at Wexford Courthouse.
The Combined Court Office in Wexford has access to a number of Courts Service ICT systems, particularly the Criminal Case Tracking System, to assist in the management and administration of the business of the Court. I am pleased to note that, during the course of 2018, a new eLicensing System will be made available to the office, which will facilitate the electronic lodgement and administration of licensing from a solicitor’s own office. This system is part of a wider programme of development over the coming years to modernise the administration of court business into the 21st century.
This Government and its immediate predecessor have prioritised reform of the courts and the legal system with the establishment of the new Court of Appeal, the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, the new Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator which is currently transitioning from the Office of the Taxing Master with further reform to include plans to establish a dedicated Family Court within existing court structures. It is only right that as we update our laws and legal systems that we also update our Courts infrastructure.
And while these innovations are high profile, local courthouses are also a major priority. This project is one of a number of courthouse projects announced by the Government in 2012. Wexford Courthouse joins a group of completed courthouses comprising of Drogheda and Letterkenny, with four further new courthouses or substantial refurbishments to be delivered around the country by Public Private Partnerships in 2018.
In terms of scale, the Courts Public Private Partnership Bundle project is the largest capital building project ever undertaken by the Courts Service, delivering a total of 31 courtrooms and 36,000 m2 of accommodation nationwide.
The Courts Service and the Courts Service Board must be congratulated for this ambitious programme along with the Office of Public Works and the National Development Finance Agency who, together with my Department, are working together on these projects, which are now nearing completion.
The opening of this new courthouse in Wexford is an example of the Government’s commitment to improve access to justice and it illustrates the work that has been done with the Courts Service and the Judiciary in this regard.
Finally, I would like to extend my thanks to the main contractor, BAM construction company, for their great work on this €18.1 million capital project. I am looking forward to the opening of the remaining completed courthouses later this year, with the new courthouse in Limerick set to be officially opened in the coming weeks. These new and refurbished courthouses are a lasting testament to the commitment of the Courts Service Board and the Courts Service staff to the delivery of improved standards and services to all.
I am confident that this new courthouse will meet the needs of Wexford and the surrounding area for many decades to come.