End of Borders jury trials?

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A LEADING local lawyer admitted this week that cost-saving plans by the Scottish Court Service (SCS), which include the closure of three of the region’s four sheriff courts, were “more drastic and worrying than we were expecting”.

But Patricia Thom, dean of the Roxburgh faculty of solicitors, is reserving further judgement on the controversial proposals, outlined in a new 30-page document, until after a so-called dialogue meeting which the SCS is hosting in Edinburgh tomorrow (Friday).

Mrs Thom, who has her own practice in Kelso, will be joined by Galashiels defence lawyer Greig McDonell to represent the region’s estimated 80 practising solicitors at the event for professional groups “and others with an interest in the structure of the court system”.

The SCS plans are underpinned by a 20 per cent real terms cut in its budget by 2014/15 and its assertion that it has “no choice but to find ways to deliver its services at a lower annual cost”.

It confirms the courts at Peebles and Duns should be considered for closure because they deal with insufficient business, while Selkirk serves a settlement of less than 20,000 and is within 20 miles of another court (Jedburgh).

The most stunning proposal in the document, however, is that, under the new structure, jury trials will no longer take place at Jedburgh and that such Borders cases would be heard in Edinburgh.

A public consultation on the changes is scheduled for this autumn with the SCS Board due to make a final recommendation in January next year.

Any order to close a court must be made by Scottish ministers, although this would be subject to annulment by the Scottish Parliament.

“We would anticipate a phased implementation of any changes beginning in 2013/14,” states the SCS document.