Duns Sheriff Court closes amid concerns

Sheriff Court, Duns
Sheriff Court, Duns

Duns Sheriff Court closed today after hearing its final cases, which included a petition to keep justice services in the town, in the form of a poem.

Sheriff Kevin Drummond took the opportunity to than the staff involved in the functioning of justice at the court, past and present. He also drew attention to the fact that Duns had been a site of such courts since the 16th century.

The closure comes amid persistent political laments for a perceived lack of access to justice following the removal of services to Jedburgh.

Local MSP John Lamont said: “Today is a bad day for justice, as a vital local court, which hears hundreds of cases a year, is set to close. Despite experts from all across the justice system warning against closures, the SNP forced them through in a bid to save money.

“But these closures will fail to make significant savings as cases in Jedburgh will become more and more delayed and as witnesses have to travel further to get to court.

“And the court which is meant to take on extra business is already struggling and failing to meet its target in nearly half of all cases.”

Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland, has called for the planned closure of Duns and Peebles to be stopped after figures show that people in communities elsewhere in Scotland where courts have already closed are receiving a worse service with delays in processing cases.

Mr Hume said: “The evidence Scottish Liberal Democrats have obtained shows that communities across Scotland are receiving a poorer service as a direct result of the widespread court closure programme backed by the SNP government.

“Solicitors, victims, witnesses, jurors and police officers are all having to travel further to get to court. And these statistics show that the length of time it is taking to deal with their cases is rising and the 26-week target is missed more often.

“Recent court reform legislation means these courts will soon deal with more civil work, but these statistics suggest they are already under intense pressure with many running close to capacity. The Justice Committee also received evidence that this is being accompanied by cuts to staff budgets, rising numbers of court cases, and an increase in the number of serious and complex cases.

“With Duns and Peebles set to be closed this month, these new statistics should convince the Scottish Government and Court Service to review the impact of the closures so far and halt these further planned closures.”

While there are ongoing concerns about the practicalities of people - witnesses, complainants and defendants - managing to get to Jedburgh Sheriff Court, especially when having to use public transport, there are other logistic flashpoints.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have pointed out three closures in particular (Cupar, Sontehaven and Arbroath) which they say have meant knock-on delays in processing criminal cases in the remaining courts that have picked up their workload.

Meanwhile a decision on the future of the building that currently houses Duns Sheriff Court is yet to be made.

This week a Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said: “The Council is in discussions with the Scottish Court Service about the ownership of Duns Sheriff Court but is unable to comment further at this stage.”