Duns Sheriff Court available but unused

Sheriff Drummond oversaw the last day of cases being heard at Duns Sheriff Court in January this year
Sheriff Drummond oversaw the last day of cases being heard at Duns Sheriff Court in January this year

Since closing its doors in February this year Duns Sheriff Court could have been used for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence - but so far this has never happened.

Pam McFarlane, Sheriffdom business manager for the Lothian and Borders, wrote to Scottish Borders councillors and said: “Facilities have been available in the old sheriff court in Newtown Street, Duns, since February 2, 2015.

“These facilities consist of a room with a CCTV link to any court in Scotland and ante rooms for staff and supporters.

“The links are operated by Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service staff. To date the facilities have not been used.

“Victim and witess legislation defines ‘vulnerability’ and dictates the methods by which vulnerable individuals can apply to the court to seek the special measure of being able to give their evidence remotely, as well as other measures such as being screened off from an accused in the courtroom or being allowed a supporter to accompany them into the witness box in court.

“When the court is ready to hear the evidence of the witness, court staff set up and activate the link and are on the ground to ensure that the evidence is given via the remote room under the direction of the court. Security measures are put in place as appropriate to the circumstances of the witess and of the case.

“It would be a great leap forward to use this kind of technology for wider use - such as the provision of a link for individuals to obtain advice remotely, but at this time we are not adequately resourced to provide that service.”

Proposed amendments to the Vulnerable Witness legislation will broaden the definition of vulnerability and Ms McFarlane anticipates “significantly higher use of remote sites before the end of this year”.

The letter to councillors addresses the current position regarding the ability of vulnerable people to give evidence to courts from remote sites, to avoid any distress caused by them needing to attend court in person.

“I have been encouraging the Scottish Court Service to maximise and widen the use of this very welcome facility and hope it will act as a precursor for more engagement with them in making the Court Service overall become more accessible for the residents of the Scottish Borders,” added Ms McFarlane.

“Officers are continuing to press the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service to look at how they can further open up their services to the public in areas across the Borders in partnership with Scottish Borders Council that will enable constituents who need advice or support to access that assistance more readily.