Government backing of court plans blasted

Sheriff Court, Duns
Sheriff Court, Duns

The Scottish Government’s decision to back proposals to close Duns Sheriff Court has not been met with a favourable response in Berwickshire.

The plans by the Scottish Court Service to close 10 courts nationwide, including Duns and Peebles, were discussed by ministers last week and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said they were ‘justified and compatible with wider justice reforms’ given current ‘financial constraints’.

Mr MacAskill added: “Unfortunately, the fragmented and outdated court system we inherited - where many smaller courts are not fit for purpose and are under-used - is no longer sustainable.”

But his acceptance of the cost saving exercise from the Court Service, which they say will save an estimated £4 million a year, has been blasted by local community councils.

Chairman of Eyemouth Town Community Council, Jo Pawley is so incensed by the plans that she has written to both Mr MacAskill and First Minister Alex Salmond.

“I’ve yet to have a decent response from either,” she told ‘The Berwickshire’.

“To me this is a case of the government taken their eye of the ball.

“Closing the courts might save money in some areas but what about the financial impact on the police when they effectively have to act as taxi drivers to get people to court?

“Public transport doesn’t allow for someone to get from Eyemouth to Jedburgh for the court starting at 10am so what will happen is people will be waiting for police officers to come with a warrant and arrest them and take them to court that way.

“The only other option is for people to go the night before and sit outside!”

Jo said she was baffled by the decision to keep both Selkirk and Jedburgh open given their close proximity to each other.

“It makes no sense at all to me. Haddington, which has also been earmarked for closure, would have been preferable. At least people can get a bus from Eyemouth up to there. A more left field option would be to share Berwick court. I know it’s a different jurisdiction but there could be a possibility of assigning one day a fortnight or month for Scottish business.”

Jo is keen for communities in Berwickshire to unite in their opposition to the proposed closure of Duns court and has been in contact with Diana Findlay, chair of Berwickshire Community Councils Forum, who also thought the closure wouldn’t be practical.

“I seems like another example of people in Berwickshire being forgotten; which as chair of the Forum is something I hear from people all of the time.

“I think the scope is there for us to try and stop it.”