Borders politicians have slammed the news that three courts in the region have been earmarked for closure after a leaked document from the Scottish Courts Service suggested that Duns, Peebles and Selkirk courts are all under threat.
According to various reports, the paper said the three Border courts could be lined up for the chop, along with at least 30 others, due to a lack of business.
And although a spokesperson for the Courts Service said it was “too soon to speculate on the future of any particular court,” Berwickshire MSP John Lamont, south of Scotland MSP Jim Hume and Borders MP Michael Moore, have criticised the potential closures , with Mr Lamont, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, describing it as “a severe blow to the court system in the Borders”.
He first addressed the matter at a meeting of the Justice Committee last month after members heard that judicial office bearers and Scottish Court Service staff had already been sounded out about what ‘principles could be applied to court services in the future’, with a view to a wider consultation in the new year.
Mr Lamont asked Lord President and Lord Justice General, The Right Hon Lord Hamilton, if rural aspects and transport links would be included in the principles used to guide the decision-making process to which he was told “we have not formulated the principles yet, but that issue will certainly be recognised.”
So now that it looks like three Border courts could fall victim to the axe, Mr Lamont has asked the Court Service to seek the views of residents in rural locations like Berwickshire who, if Selkirk and Peebles are also closed, would have to travel to Jedburgh to have their cases heard.
He commented: “This is shocking news that would deal a severe blow to the court system in the Borders. In rural areas like the Borders the presence of local courts can save both time and money by providing a nearby link to our justice system.
“To close these courts would be short sighted as they deal with a huge number of cases each year. Shutting them will only result in a backlog occurring in our other courts, meaning that some criminals might not ever see justice.
“It will also mean that those wishing to use the court service will have to travel far further to their nearest court.
“I sincerely hope that the Scottish Court Service conduct a full consultation with local communities to see the damage this would cause. Maybe then they would choose not to go ahead with these ill thought out plans.”
Whispers of Duns court being under threat were first heard earlier this year but were flatly denied by the Court Service.
And this week they once again poured cold water on any suggestion that the fate of specific courts was already a done deal.
Their spokesperson commented: “The Scottish Court Service is facing a future where budget levels will reduce and there will be major service reforms arising from Lord Gill’s review of civil courts, Sheriff Principal Bowen’s review of sheriff and jury trials and recent recommendations announced in Lord Carloway’s report.
“We have initiated a review which looks at what business should be done in different locations around the country and an internal discussion document was prepared to promote this conversation with SCS staff and judicial members to help us discuss practical issues and to assist us to develop options for delivering the service in the future. As part of our fact finding, we wanted to make sure we fully understood local issues and could take these into account along with other business analysis work we are undertaking. That is the stage we are currently at.
“It is too soon to speculate on the future of any particular court but any proposal to close a court will require a full public consultation to be undertaken and ultimately, a decision by the Scottish Parliament.”