Courts Service justification for Access Restrictions

Back in October, I wrote to the Courts Service asking for them to justify the decision to restrict access to the Four Courts buildings. Mostly this kind of request is filed in the folder for the letters written in purple crayon. But I cited Section 18 of the FOI Acts, which has the happy effect of placing a statutory duty on the state body to respond to my request. And, for a S. 18 request, you don’t have to pay them.

So, in early November, I got my reply back. This is the relevant section of the letter. I’ve numbered the paragraphs for ease of reference.

Reasons for the Act- Findings on material issues of fact
1. Security in the Four Courts has been an issue of ongoing and serious concern since the establishment of the Courts Service. Following a series of meetings during 2000 with the Garda Commissioner a joint project team, comprising representatives of the Courts Service, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and An Garda Siochana was established in January 2001 to review all aspects of security at the Four Courts complex.

2. The report of the Review Group/ (joint project team) stated that in order to secure the Four Courts Complex it would be necessary to provide physical security similar to those provided in airports and court buildings in other jurisdictions at all access/egress points. All of the organisations and groups which occupy the Four Courts complex were consulted when compiling this report.

3. This Report was finalised in October 2002 and considered by the Court Service Board at its meeting in November 2002. The Building Committee of the Court Service Board undertook to consider the report in detail and in particular the lack of adequate security arrangements at the Four Courts Complex. The Committee decided that the report of the Review Group should be implemented in its totality as partial security measures would not be effective.

4. Member of the Building Committee viewed crout facilities in other jurisdictions e.g. UK, United States of America that all Court buildings generally have a single point of entry for the public to the building with electric screening in place.

5. The Building Committee also looked at all Government Departments and Leinster House which have security arrangements in place. In other Government Departments with do not have a high level of public attendance visitors must be cleareed in advance and or sign in. A number of Departments also have a continuous Garda presence. None of these buildings has the same level of public usage as the Gour Courts or the same number of access/egress points.

6. The Court Service Board at its meeting on the 22nd April 2004 unanimously approved the recommendations of the Building Committee and the necessary planning and procurement commenced from that date. The Court Service has consulted widely with court user groups in relation to this new security arrangements.

7. A number of incidents have occurred within the Four Courts Complex which have given rise to serious concern. These include a worrying level of illegal activity in the toilets in the Four Courts complex including cigarette and marijuana smoking; intravenous drug taking; alcohol consumption; criminal damage and sexual activity. The prevention of these activities is taken very seriously by the Court Service particularly in view of the consequences of contact with the refuse of intravenous drug taking i.e. blood syringes etc.

8. The new security measures will ensure the fuller scrutiny of those who enter the buildings and of activity in the public areas of the buildings and yards.

9. The new security system is being phased in on a gradual basis at present. While there may be some initial difficulties these will be addressed, and any shortcomings or difficulties within the system will be redressed as they occur. The operation of the new security arrangements will be kept constantly under review and every effort will be made to ensure that any delay in accessing or exiting the Complex is kept to a minimum.

10. It is the objective of the Courts Service to reduce inconvenience to a minimum particularly for practitioners and for frequent court users.

I’m going to come back to this and see if I can tease it out a little more. If anything strikes you- just leave it in the comments.

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