News In Focus
Court closures "will reduce access to justice": Society
21 September 2012
The court closure proposals announced today will have a major impact on access to justice, the Law Society of Scotland has warned.
Responding to the consultation published by the Scottish Court Service, the Society expressed fears that attempts to close 11 of Scotland’s sheriff courts will threaten access to justice for communities across Scotland, particularly those in rural areas.
Austin Lafferty, President of the Society, said: "Public spending is under increasing pressure and we fully understand the need for the court service, like all parts of the public sector, to reduce operating costs and save money. However we don’t believe that the measures proposed today will necessarily achieve that – and could well lead to a long term decline in access to our justice system.
"Widening access to justice has been highlighted by the Scottish Government as a priority in its recently published justice strategy. While there have been concessions made following a series of events hosted by SCS to discuss the issues involved, and at 11 the number of proposed closures is not as severe as the 15 initially proposed, it is still difficult to see how a court closure programme on this scale is consistent with that strategy.
"Local courts have an important role within their communities and it is absolutely essential that access to justice remains the core consideration throughout this consultation process."
The Society stated that a review of the courts must not be done in isolation, given ongoing proposals for reform, including the Gill review which could see significant work moved from the Court of Session to sheriff courts.
Mr Lafferty added: "It is vital that as a result of trying to streamline costs in one area, new difficulties are not created elsewhere. Neither should we expect individuals to shoulder additional costs of attending courts that are costly and difficult to reach and nor do we want to see, for example, an accused person travelling on the same local bus as a witness on an extended journey.
"It’s important that everyone involved in the justice system, including members of the public, can contribute to this debate. We will be asking our members and other interested groups for their views as we consider the proposals in today’s consultation and plan to fully explore what realistic and workable alternatives, such as an improved circuit system and the use of technology, there are to the closure of local courts."