Delays in Scottish courts growing ‘steadily worse’

Court closures are said to be a main reason. Picture: TSPL
Court closures are said to be a main reason. Picture: TSPL
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Logjams in Scotland’s courts have been growing “steadily worse” in recent years and mean victims of crime aren’t seeing justice done quickly, official figures indicate.

Opposition parties say a recent raft of court closures are to blame for the worsening delays which means the proportion of cases seen with a 26-week target has been cut.

The number of such Sheriff Court cases fell from 75.7 per cent to 70.9 per cent – the lowest since 2009, according to figures obtained through freedom of information by the Scottish Conservatives.

“These delays are costly and expensive and totally unfair on taxpayers, and on victims and their families who understandably want and have a right to expect justice to be dispensed quickly,” Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said.

“No matter what the SNP will say about the target being a guideline, the truth is that this majority SNP government’s justice system reform policies have been both inept and incompetent.”

Proposals to axe ten sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts were backed by MSPs last year, despite warnings that the remaining courts would struggle to deal with the delays.

Mrs Mitchell added: “Even at this late stage it is not too late for justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill to mitigate the impact of the disastrous decisions, which he and his government have taken, by reversing the decision to close so many courts.”

In justice of the peace (JP) courts the proportion of cases meeting the target fell from 77.8 per cent to 73.2 per cent.

The figures show the total number of cases being dealt with by sheriff courts fell by 14 per cent to 56,815 over the same period while JP cases dropped 
9 per cent to 47,571.

Mrs Mitchell added: “These figures show the issue of delays to justice is not a new problem and that staggeringly, the backlog has been steadily getting worse for five years.

The list of sheriff courts included is Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright, Peebles, Rothesay, Cupar, Dingwall, Arbroath, Haddington and Stonehaven, with their business transferred to other locations.

JP courts in Annan, Irvine, Motherwell, Cumbernauld, Portree, Stornoway and Wick also face being closed.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said 95 per cent of court business is “unaffected by recent changes to court structures.” She added: The Scottish Court Service has confirmed that they have capacity within courts to deal with current and anticipated cases.”