Courts closed to save Scottish taxpayers’ cash

CLOSED sheriff and justice of the peace courts are continuing to cost Scottish taxpayers thousands of pounds in maintenance costs.

CLOSED sheriff and justice of the peace courts are continuing to cost Scottish taxpayers thousands of pounds in maintenance costs.

Details obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show eight closed courts, costing around £24,000 a year, are still on the books of the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS).

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Ten sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts were closed across Scotland as part of a controversial cost-cutting exercise criticised by opposition MSPs.

Information obtained by the Scottish Conservatives shows eight – Arbroath, Cumbernauld, Cupar, Dingwall, Duns, Haddington, Kirkcudbright and Stonehaven – are still part of the Scottish Court and Tribunals Service’s estate.

Each court incurs maintenance costs of around £3,000 per year, the SCTS said.

Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said: “We know court closures have had a negative impact on the justice system, with cases taking longer and victims and witnesses being inconvenienced with bigger journeys. Now it seems, even though these facilities have been lost, the taxpayer is still shelling out thousands every year for their maintenance. This extra cost is just another by-product of the SNP leaving these court buildings to languish on our high streets.”

The final phase of the closures was completed in January. Under the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill, a new role of summary sheriff is being introduced to deal with smaller cases. The courts service has said specialist jury centres will be introduced for more serious criminal business.

Concerns have been raised that the closures have led to backlogs at larger sheriff courts, with victims of crime having to wait considerably longer to learn about the outcome of cases.

The SCTS said a number of its buildings were receiving interest from the local community, including Arbroath and Stonehaven. North Lanarkshire Council had expressed an interest in taking over the ownership of Cumbernauld.

The former sheriff court at Cupar is expected to transfer to Fife Council soon, when it will be integrated within council offices. Courts at Duns and Haddington are being transferred to their respective councils, while Dingwall and Kirkcudbright are being sold on the open market.

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Last night, a spokesman for the SCTS said: “In our 2013 Shaping Scotland’s Court Service report we identified that there would be up-front maintenance costs pending disposal of the courts identified for ­closure – these are not new or unexpected costs.

“This represents good value when measured against the ­investment we have been able to target on a smaller court estate. This is essential to create a modern court structure throughout Scotland, with digital innovation at its heart.

“Over the last year we have made significant improvement across our estate, with specific investment in Aberdeen, Dundee, Forfar and Tain.”

Eric McQueen, SCTS chief executive, said: “We have been clear all along that we couldn’t make improvements by avoiding change and by taking difficult decisions we are now making that improvement.”

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