EYEMOUTH Town Council fears proposals to close Duns Sheriff Court would be “disastrous” and cause problems for police.
Chair Jo Pawley raises concerns about the cost and feasibility of travelling from Eyemouth to alternative courts in Edinburgh or Jedburgh in a letter to the Scottish Court Service.
She believes the proposed closure will “make access to justice in the Borders all the more difficult.”
Consultation on proposals to close 11 sheriff courts in Scotland, including Duns, came to an end last week. Eyemouth Town Council is one of many respondents concerned about the proposals.
A 20 per cent budget reduction, and imminent changes to the justice system are the reasons given for the closures. But campaigners have pointed out that along with additional travelling costs, there is the potential for police and court time being wasted when defendants or witnesses can’t get there in time on public transport.
The status quo is not an option, according to Scottish Court Service’s interim chief executive Eric McQueen, who said: “For the vast majority of sheriff and JP courts we are looking at moving business to courts that are within 20 miles.”
Duns is 25 miles away from Jedburgh, Eyemouth 42 miles.
East Lothian solicitor Angela Craig, warned: “There’ll be a lot of incidents where people have been cited to attend court and they may people not be able to afford the additional travelling costs of getting to court. As a consequence there’ll be non-appearance warrants which will have an impact on the police, and obviously cases will have to be adjourned because of that, so it’ll result in delays.”
Writing to the Scottish Courts Service, Eyemouth Community Council chair, Jo Pawley, said: “Eyemouth Town Community Council are aghast at the proposals to close the court at Duns.
“The proposed court closures will make access to justice in the Borders all the more difficult for our population. It does not appear that any alternative proposals have been considered.
“Sharing facilities may have been a sensible solution. Peebles Court currently shares accommodation with the police and social work and criminal justice departments. This was recognised as being “a blueprint for Scotland” by the then Deputy First Minister.
“This is at odds with the consultation paper. Duns Court is accessed through the rear of the local authority building and is next door to the police station, but this does not seem to be recognised at all in the proposals.
“Have the people who have written this proposal visited the courts in Duns? For us in Eyemouth, Duns is our nearest court. It is a 20-minute bus ride away. If the court is closed, this will mean a two-hour bus ride to Edinburgh. We are classed as a disadvantaged area and it would appear that the proposals will increase this disadvantage.
“There may well be a greater waste of court time with accused persons arriving late. This may well cause greater problems for the police having to then go and arrest someone who has not turned up and then take them to Edinburgh for another appearance rather than to Duns.
“The proposed level of savings occasioned by the closure of the courts in the Borders is minimal compared to the negative impact occasioned on the Borders. We feel that the proposals put forward are badly thought out, contrary to legislation and will have a disastrous effect on the people in the Scottish Borders.
“Everyone has the right to a fair trial and these proposals will negate that right.”