Confirmation of the proposal to close Duns Sheriff Court has been a described as a “massive blow to the justice system” in the Borders.
The decision means Berwickshire residents will face a long trip to Jedburgh to attend court. Critics claim it will lead to an increase in travel costs and the number of non-appearances.
Objections from residents, the legal profession and councillors, however, fell on deaf ears when the Scottish Courts Service recommended to the Scottish Parliament to close both Duns and Peebles Sheriff Courts in January 2015, leaving Jedburgh and Selkirk to serve the region.
Courts sitting less than two days a week or hearing fewer than 200 new criminal cases and 300 new civil cases a year were at risk, deemed “disproportionate and inefficient to maintain.”
Duns falls into this category with only 132 new criminal and 204 new civil cases heard in 2011/12. “We are aghast at the decision,” said Eyemouth Town Council chairman, Jo Pawley. “The court closures will make access to justice in the Borders all the more difficult for our population.
“We in Eyemouth are classed as living in a disadvantaged area and it would appear that the decision will increase this disadvantage.
“Vulnerable persons will be at significant risk if required to travel longer distances by public transport. There may also be the risk of family members of the accused travelling on the same bus as the victim or indeed witnesses. How is this fair?
“We feel that this decision is ill thought out.”
Local MSP John Lamont said: “This is a hugely disappointing decision that will be a massive blow to the justice system we have here in the Borders. To shut Duns Sheriff Court will severely limit the access that many local people have to the justice system as they will have to travel far further to get to their nearest court.
“What is perhaps most disappointing about this announcement is that the Scottish Courts Service has totally ignored the many voices that were calling out against these closures.
“When some of these are organisations include the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates they deserve better than to merely be ignored. I hope that the SNP Government now takes the right decision and chooses to not go ahead with these proposals.”
Borders MSP Christine Grahame (SNP) also opposes to the closures but is pushing for the a justice centre in Galashiels as an alternative.
Local solicitor Iain Burke said the final proposals had remained the same as those put out for consultation last year
“I think the proposal is very short-sighted and unfair for the local area,” he said.
The increased travel time and costs are also of a concern to Mr Burke, who said these, along with lost court days due to non-appearances, meant the suggested savings behind the closures would not be made.
“The costs are being shuffled around, they are not being saved,” he said.
SCS chief executive Eric McQueen explained: “The final decision on whether a court should close rests with the Scottish Parliament.”