Justice Committee narrowly backs court closures

Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Greg MacveanKenny MacAskill. Picture: Greg Macvean
Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Greg Macvean
MSPs have voted against annulling the Scottish Government’s plans to close 17 courts following a lengthy and occasionally heated debate.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defended the Scottish Court Service plans to shut some of the country’s quieter, rural courts.

Opposition MSPs urged SNP members to vote against the Scottish Government, but were unsuccessful.

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There are fears the court closures will damage access to justice, put witnesses off reporting crimes, and harm high streets by closing court buildings.

Lewis Macdonald, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, who brought motion to annul, said: “There has been no sign in this debate that the government has been prepared to listen, even when the criticism came from its own colleagues.”

However, Mr MacAskill insisted that the proposals, based on the recommendations of Lord Gill, Scotland’s senior judge, are necessary, particularly in the current financial climate.

“There is no walk of life in Scotland that does not live under the cloud of financial challenges. To discuss the court service, as if it is immune, ignores the realities of the world we live in,” he said.

The plans are designed to save £3 million up front and £1m a year afterwards, and have already led to protests outside the Scottish Parliament.