News In Focus
Court closure programme in proposed restructuring
21 September 2012
Eleven of Scotland's sheriff courts and 18 justice of the peace courts are set for closure under Scottish Court Service proposals to restructure the country's court network, published today.
In addition, High Court business will mostly be conducted in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, while sheriff and jury courts will in future be held in 16 mainland courts and the five in the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.
The plans are set out in the document "Shaping Scotland's court services", a consultation with a response deadline of 21 December 2012.
Courts earmarked for closure are:
- the five JP courts in towns where there is no sheriff court house (Coatbridge, Cumbernauld, Annan, Irvine and Motherwell), business being transferred to the JP court sitting in the sheriff court house for the district;
- the JP courts in Portree, Stornoway and Wick, whose business would in future be heard in the sheriff court in the same place;
- the sheriff and JP courts in Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright and Peebles, and the sheriff court in Rothesay, places where business levels fall within the paper's "low volume" measure, business being transferred respectively to Tain, Jedburgh, Dumfries, Edinburgh and Greenock;
- six sheriff and JP courts in proximity to another court where there is capacity to take on additional business: Alloa (business to Stirling, or Falkirk for solemn busniess); Cupar (to Dundee); Dingwall (to Inverness); Arbroath (to Forfar); Haddington (to Edinburgh); and Stonehaven (to Aberdeen).
However Lanark and Selkirk Sheriff Courts, which had been considered for closure, are to remain open.
The sheriff courts that would, over time, assume responsibility for sheriff and jury work would be: Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh, Livingston, Paisley, Dumbarton, Kilmarnock, Airdrie, Hamilton, Ayr, Dumfries, Perth, Dundee, Falkirk and Dunfermline, along with the island courts of Lerwick, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Lochmaddy and Portree.
For the High Court, the paper proposes to restrict routine sittings to the three dedicated buildings in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, providing additional capacity at sheriff courts in the east and
west of Scotland in order to meet statutory timescales, but moving over time to a position where two sheriff courts would provide most of any required overflow capacity. However the system would be "flexible enough" for the Lord Advocate to requisition a court to sit elsewhere. Directions would be given as to the proportion in which jurors would be summoned to the High Court from different areas.
The paper explains that while some places have modern courthouses with all the desired facilities – Livingston is given particular commendation – in many older buildings, improvement is "just not physically possible". Capital budgets are being cut from over £20m in 2010-11 to only £4m in 2014-15, and even after efficiency savings through court procedure reforms, staff cuts and savings through IT, another £1.5-2m per annum has to be found. The reforms proposed in the Gill and McInnes reports also require resources.
It accepts that having facilities locally to deal with high volume summary business remains the most appropriate way to provide access to summary justice, but adds: "The challenge is to provide capacity at appropriate places within the current range of court locations, to deal with the various types of business." Another important consideration is the increasing requirement to improve services for victims and witnesses.
An annex to the paper contains a set of "Principles for provision of access to justice", drawn up by the Lord President and the sheriffs principal, to which regard has, the paper states, been had in drawing up the proposals. These include having regard to article 6 of the Human Rights Convention; disposing of criminal business locally, "subject to the efficient disposal of business"; ensuring that most people can travel to and from their local court in the course of a day; enabling administrative business to be undertaken without the need for physical attendance; and providing court accommodation that is fit for purpose.
In a foreword the Lord President, Lord Gill, says the proposals are the result of extensive discussions involving many individuals. He adds: The time has come for these proposals to be tested by a thorough process of public consultation. I invite all who read this document to approach it with an open mind and to respond to it constructively. The Board hopes that, with the benefit of this consultation, it will provide a pattern of courts that will best serve the needs of those who use them."
Click here to access the consultation.