THE consultation into the possible closure of Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court has begun, with the Stewartry’s only court one of 11 facing the axe under new proposals from the Scottish Court Service.
The potential for the High Street building’s closure was announced as part of an overhaul of the service, and is targeting the least-used of the country’s courts - most of which are in rural areas.
The news caused concern amongst politicians and outside agencies who fear those required to attend for court business won’t always be able to afford the travel expenses for the 25 mile journey to Dumfries or Stranraer, where business will be tranferred.
MSP for the South of Scotland Dr Aileen McLeod has already secured a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill which is due to take place early this week to discuss the possible impact the closure will have.
Dr McLeod said: “This announcement comes as a concern to all in the region and what we need now need is proper detail of how this would affect not only Kirkcudbright but neighbouring courts in Dumfries and Stranraer.
“It is important to note however that currently this is only a proposal and we now have a three month period for members of the public and stakeholders to make their views known via the public consultation.
“I’ve still to see any proper detail of these plans and that will need to be examined before any submission to the consultation. Any decision over closures will not only be scrutinised locally but also in the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee where they will be judged in detail, however the court service still remains completely separate from the Scottish Government.
“I’ve already managed to secure a meeting with the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to outline my concerns and I will endeavour to keep the local people informed of any new developments as they happen.”
The Law Society of Scotland has warned that the closure will threaten the course of justice.
The consultation ends in December and involves possible closure of courts in Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright, Peebles, Rothesay, Alloa, Cupar, Dingwall, Arbroath, Haddington and Stonehaven. Justice of the peace courts in Coatbridge, Cumbernauld, Annan, Irvine and Motherwell would also be shut under the plan, with business transferred to sheriff courts in appropriate districts. The consultation also includes a proposal to centralise High Court functions and sheriff and jury trials.
Austin Lafferty, society president in Scotland, said: “Local courts have an important role within their communities and it is absolutely essential that access to justice remains the core consideration throughout this consultation process. It is vital that as a result of trying to streamline costs in one area, new difficulties are not created elsewhere.
“Neither should we expect individuals to shoulder additional costs of attending courts that are costly and difficult to reach and nor do we want to see, for example, an accused person travelling on the same local bus as a witness on an extended journey.”
Eric McQueen, executive director of SCS, said: “With greater levels of specialisation expected to result from the justice reforms, we anticipate the most serious types of business being heard in fewer locations. Many of our court buildings were built in Victorian times and are both expensive to maintain and difficult to adapt to modern needs.
“We accept that having fewer court buildings, as proposed, will impact on travel distances for some people and the consultation paper sets out the likely impact of the proposed changes. For most people, attending court is a rare experience and future court services will seek to reduce this requirement through greater use of technology and online services.”