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SCS looking at further court reorganisation

22 May 2013

Closures of local sheriff courts already in the pipeline may be followed by a further shakeup, the chief executive of the Scottish Court Service (SCS) told MSPs yesterday.

Giving evidence to the Justice Committee, which is considering the current closure proposals, Eric McQueen said that feasibility studies would begin this month on new "justice centres" covering areas in the Borders, Strathclyde, Fife and the Highlands.

Talks are to be held in the Borders within the next two weeks on the principle of having a centralised court, and Mr McQueen disclosed that it had already been suggested that in terms of location Galashiels would make a good central hub.

Courts in Peebles and Duns are scheduled to close, leaving those in Jedburgh and Selkirk. Concerns have already been expressed at the distances some parties and witnesses would have to travel and the lack of public transport.

During the session Mr McQueen came under pressure from MSPs opposed to the closures already planned, which also affect Haddington, Cupar, Arbroath, Stonehaven, Dingwall, Dornoch, Rothesay and Kirkcudbright sheriff courts, along with JP courts in Annan, Irvine, Motherwell, Cumbernauld, Portree, Stornoway and Wick.

Performance

He asked members to trust the "professionalism and integrity" of SCS, adding: "There is no way in the world we would be bringing forward plans where we thought the court was just going to spiral in terms of its performance."

While acknowledging the travel difficulties some people would face, he commented that the volumes of business at courts such as Duns were "very, very small", and "What we can't do is provide court services to meet every single issue across the whole of Scotland.”

John Lamont, the Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, said: "Given the backlash against court closures, it's incredible to discover that this may only be the beginning."

Labour's Lewis Macdonald suggested that regional justice centres were being proposed "as a way of trying to satisfy SNP MSPs who are now being forced to support closures which they had previously opposed", and Alison McInnes of the Liberal Democrats MSP voiced fears for rural communities worried about the prospects for local jobs, services and justice.

The Justice Committee has to approve the order for the closures, failing which it will be put to the full Parliament.

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