Anger over proposals to close courts in the Highlands

PUBLIC access to justice will be severely eroded if courts in the Highlands are axed, angry lawyers claimed today.

Officials from the Scottish Court Service were in Inverness meeting with staff and solicitors as part of a country-wide review.

There has been widespread specualation that sheriff courts in Tain, Dornoch and Dingwall will suffer as a result of cutbacks.

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David Hingston, a leading lawyer and former procurator fiscal in Dingwall, slammed any moves to close courts in the Highlands.

The Black Isle-based solicitor said: “The Scottish Court Service has been told that they must cut costs by 20 per cent by the Scottish Government.

“They are looking to cut down the number of courts and this will have a massive effect upon peoples’ access to justice.

“The only proposal appears to be to close the sheriff courts at Dingwall, Tain and Dornoch for normal sheriff court business.

“This business would be transferred to the sheriff courts at Inverness and Wick, with Dingwall being used for all solemn business.

“It appears that no consideration has been given to members of the public and their rights to local courts.

“I’m absolutely fuming on behalf of the Highland people that they are being treated in this cavalier fashion.”

Mr Hingston said Inverness Sheriff Court was already unable to cope with its current volume of business, which increased after the court in Strathspey was shut.

He added: “I cannot imagine where they think they’re going to put the additional cases from Dingwall, Tain and Dornoch.”

People who are accused and witnesses will be required to travel to Inverness and Wick for cases if these courts are closed.

Mr Hingston added: “It will only be stopped if there is a sufficient public outcry.”

The changes arises from a review of civil court from Lord Gill, Sheriff Principal Bowen’s review of sheriff-and-jury trials and recent recommendations made by Lord Carloway.

Eric McQueen, SCS executive director of field services, said: “There are major reforms of the justice system planned for the next few years and some of these will have a significant impact on the courts and therefore on the services the SCS provides to support the courts.

“We have generated a range of possible ideas on how the High Court, sheriff court and justice of the peace courts might look in the future and want to use these dialogue events to put the issues into the conext of reality and provide potentially different or better solutions.

“The purpose of the events is to hear from those who work in , or otherwise professionally support, the current system.”

He said that only after the meetins would the SCS develop proposals for consideration,

If any closures are proposed, he added that this decision would ultimately be taken by the Scottish Parliament.