Report recommends 17 Scottish courts to close

The trial was heard at the High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: Paul Chappells
The trial was heard at the High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: Paul Chappells
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A report has recommended the closure of 10 sheriff courts and seven Justice of the Peace courts across Scotland.

The courts will be shut, subject to Parliamentary approval, following the recommendations set out by the Scottish Court Service (SCS).

Sheriff courts in Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright, Peebles, Rothesay, Cupar, Dingwall, Arbroath, Haddington and Stonehaven will be closed, with business transferred to nearby locations. Many of these courts also have co-located Justice of the Peace courts.

Meanwhile, Justice of the Peace courts in Annan, Irvine, Motherwell, Cumbernauld, Portree, Stornoway and Wick will also shut.

The SCS report recommends that High Court cases are heard predominately in three dedicated centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. It also suggests a move towards “specialist jury centres” at certain sheriff courts over a longer 10-year period.

The closures come as the SCS faces further budgetary pressure.

Chief executive Eric McQueen said: “By 2015 the court service running cost budget will reduce by 20% in real terms and the capital budget will reduce from £20 million to £4 million.

“There needs to be changes in the way we operate and deliver our services.”

He added: “These recommendations may sound stark but they are proportionate. The volume of business transacted in the sheriff courts recommended for closure is around 5% of the overall court business.”

The closure proposals attracted criticism during the consultation period, with warnings that the move could damage local economies, cause difficulties and inconvenience for victims and witnesses, and put too much pressure on other courts.

Mr McQueen said the actual number of members of the public the closures will affect is “very small”.

He added: “We make it clear that there would be no sense, and no benefit for us, simply to overload courts to a level that was unmanageable.

“We believe that instead of investing in all our current buildings we must invest our energy and resources in making better use of technology including video links and online processes.

“Investment should be targeted to improve services and facilities for users in a smaller number of court buildings.”

The final decision on the closures rests with Holyrood, with the SCS recommendations submitted to Scottish ministers today.

Labour MSP Jenny Marra said the closures would be “a substantial blow” to the towns affected.

“Local courts ensure easy and speedy access to justice across the country,” she said.

“They are also vital economic contributors to their towns. To close courts and ask victims and witnesses to travel further with more inconvenience is simply unacceptable.”

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) - which represents administrative staff in the courts service - said it was “extremely disappointed”.

Brian Carroll, secretary of the PCS Scottish courts branch, said: “Despite substantial opposition and high level of negative responses to the consultation, the original proposals have survived almost totally intact.

“We are sure that this decision will be greeted with dismay, not just by our members who will be affected, but also within the communities they serve.”