Victims and justice will suffer if courts close

PLANS to close ten sheriff courts in the face of £24.6 million in cuts will damage access to justice, harm high streets and hit victims and witnesses in the pockets, critics have warned.

Politicians, businesses and lawyers have all hit out at the Scottish Court Service (SCS) plans, which are to be discussed by ministers.

Eric McQueen, chief executive of the SCS, said Scotland’s legal system is facing the “most significant changes in well over a century”.

By 2015, its running costs budget will have been reduced from £73.6m to £65.4m, while its capital budget will have been cut from £20.4 million to £4m, in the space of four years.

The SCS believes the changes will deliver £1.8m annual savings, and a one-off sum of £6.3m, by cancelling maintenance work and sale of buildings.

However, critics warn the SCS response to these challenges is too extreme and will hit justice and communities.

Austin Lafferty, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “These court closures seriously threaten access to justice in many parts of Scotland and could lead to a long term decline in our cherished justice system.

“The changes will force many court users to travel further distances, at greater expense and with the result that access to justice is limited. Vulnerable groups and people living in rural areas will be disproportionately affected by this decision.”

Under the plans, Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright, Peebles, and Rothesay sheriff courts will close because they are under used. Arbroath, Cupar, Dingwall, Haddington, and Stonehaven will also shut as they are close to other, larger, courts which can be used instead.

Nine of those sheriff courts also contain Justice of the Peace courts, which will also close. Seven other JP courts – Annan, Irvine, Motherwell, Cumbernauld, Portree, Stornoway and Wick – will also shut.