A SOLICITOR stopped from accessing Enniskillen Courthouse to speak to one of his clients in prison via video link because it was closed was told he would have to go to Omagh or Belfast instead.
Fearing the “marginalising of rural areas”, Enniskillen based solicitor Reggie Ferguson has spoken of his frustration 10 months after the decision to downgrade the courthouse to a hearing centre was made.
“The ultimate fear is that it would be much more convenient and neater for the court service to have Enniskillen Courthouse closed,” said Mr. Ferguson.
The East Bridge Street facility is only open on scheduled court hearing days; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and the change is proving problematic for all those who use the building, according to Mr. Ferguson.
When he tried to speak to one of his clients in Maghaberry Prison recently he was told by a court official that it wasn’t possible to have access to the building on the days it was closed “because they didn’t have security.”
“I was told I could go to Omagh for the video link or visit my client in prison. I said those two options were not really available to me,” he said.
Mr. Ferguson said being prevented from speaking to a client “is just not acceptable.”
“You are trying to find out for the client how his or her case is progressing, when he or she will next appear in court, what are the implications, does he or she have to see a probation officer, is there a report available. 
“You are trying to touch base with a client who is sitting in splendid isolation in Maghaberry, to show concern, that you have his or her interests at heart and to represent him or her as best you can,” he said. 
Other work usually heard in Enniskillen such as inquests held to establish the cause, or circumstances, of a reportable death has “virtually disappeared”, claimed Mr. Ferguson.
“Up until Enniskillen was made a hearing centre a local inquest was held locally for the convenience of the family, all the witnesses in the locality. That has changed in that the coroner’s office seems to have centralised all their operations in Belfast and inquests are then heard, some in Belfast. The full inquest seems to have been directed to Omagh. 
“I’ve had two experiences now where inquests which were expected to be heard in Enniskillen were being heard in Omagh, that’s inconvenient for families who are already facing very difficult situations and again it simply seems to be a cost saving exercise by the court service without regard for people’s wishes and feelings,” he said.
Mr. Ferguson believes the ongoing situation has “severe implications for everybody”, in particular the public “who are concerned about the administration of justice in the county.”
“It’s a rationalisation, it’s a withdrawal of services closer and closer to the centres of population,” he said. 
NI Court Service was approached for a comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.