A heated debate in the Scottish Parliament about court closures saw Borders MSPs rounding on the Government’s decision to close two local courts at Duns and Peebles and to warn against closing the remaining sheriff courts at Jedburgh and Selkirk.
Speaking during the ‘Keeping Justice Local’ debate, Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland, pointed out that SNP Ministers have it in their power to protect Selkirk and Jedburgh Sheriff Courts from further closures and expressed his deep frustration at the lack of government accountability on the issue.
Last summer Scottish Ministers laid the secondary legislation, or closure orders, before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, chaired by Borders MSP Christine Grahame. The committee voted to close courts in Duns, Peebles, Haddington, Annan and Kirkcudbright.
An FOI request submitted by Mr Hume at the end of last year also uncovered a review that was being carried out into the future of Selkirk and Jedburgh Sheriff Courts, with a report due in the spring/early summer.
Speaking after the debate, Mr Hume said: “The SNP’s instinctive lean towards removing key local services from rural communities is sadly evident across south Scotland with the closure of five courts in the region.
“The impact of closures hasn’t been lost on constituents who have contacted me in their droves about fears for access to local justice. Those same people talk about their local towns being raided of yet another key facility hot on the heels of police counters and control rooms.
Conservative MSP John Lamont also spoke out against the closure of Duns Sheriff Court and condemned the current threat of closure hanging over Jedburgh and Selkirk Sheriff Courts because of the Scottish Court Service’s feasibility survey to set up a ‘Justice Centre’ in Galashiels.
Mr Lamont said: “Alternatives to court closures exist, including moving courts to a part time basis and the better use of existing public buildings. In my constituency, to add insult to injury, the closure of Duns will only make relatively minor savings meaning an important local service will be lost for only a minimal gain to the Court Service’s budget.”
“Despite the withdrawal of justice from many towns in my constituency, the future of Jedburgh and Selkirk Sheriff Courts remain in doubt. The closure of Jedburgh and Selkirk Sheriff Courts would be devastating for the Borders.”