Court staff past and present gathered in Duns last week at a small closing ceremony for the town’s Sheriff Court, which had heard its final few cases on Wednesday morning.
After a morning of processing the court’s final cases, and discussing the removal of furniture and the royal crest above the Sheriff’s bench, Sheriff Kevin Drummond addressed the gathering: “As I understand it this is the final phase of the court restructuring process in Lothian and Borders. I think it is appropriate that I set out at the beginning the thanks of the Sheriff Principal, and of the Shrieval bench to the serving justices and indeed the generations of justices who have served the community in Berwickshire.”
He went on to note that the earliest reference he had found to the administration of justice through a Sheriff system in Duns was back in 1587. “It would not surprise me in the slightest if the historians among you were able to find even earlier references,” he added.
Moving to the present day, Sheriff Drummond described some of the recent changes to the local court system: “The functions which the Justices of the Peace have carried out should, I think, be recognised.
“Until December, there were seven Justices of the Peace presiding at Duns. Four of those retired in December - Justices Ann Murray, Bill Stewart, Diana Drysdale and Bill Swan. Between them they had 87 years’ experience and all were highly regarded by the local faculty and their colleagues. That experience will be missed.
“The skills of the existing JPs will continue to be seen at Jedburgh and Selkirk and we wish them well for the future.”
Sheriff Drummond also personally thanked Margaret Dundas, who has clerked courts in Duns, Peebles, Selkirk and Jedburgh for over 25 years. “It would be interesting to find out what mileage she has covered in that time,” he said. “No Sheriff Court can function without the hard work of the clerks, dealing with an enormous range of increasingly technical paperwork that comes through the court.
“I also want to pay specific tribute to the Fiscal, Mr Graham Fraser. “Thank you to your deputes and staff.”
“In m experience it is a happy court that can see its different components as single functioning entity. It is only when you begin to try thanking them all that you realise the layers of contribution it takes to produce an effective court. Duns has been such a place.
“I shall miss my visits, and unless there is any other business that concludes the business of Duns Court.”
However, there was one piece of unfinished business left on the court roll.
Local solicitor Elliott McQuarrie had the honour of making the last petition, which took the form of a poem, lamenting the court’s closure at one point as “a vivid case of tale wags dog”.
He concluded in verse: “To this appeal I say ‘bonne chance’, and ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’”, alluding to the motto of the royal crest of arms in every courtroom.
Sheriff Drummond responded by saying: “The only proper response to this petition is to leave it until the next sitting of Duns Court.”