Opposition mounts to court closures

A CONSULTATION on the closure of Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court draws to a close today (Friday), but local Labour politicians have asked for an extension – given new information which has come to light.

The Scottish Courts Service proposals to save money would see Kirkcudbright as one of 11 such buildings closed across the country – including a second in Dumfries and Galloway in Annan. Now Russell Brown MP and Stranraer councillor Marion McCutcheon have made a submission opposing the downgrading of the court in Stranraer after it emerged jury trials may no longer be held there.

However, they are also calling on the Scottish Courts Service and Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to extend the deadline to give time for councillors to discuss it and prepare the council’s formal response.

Councillor McCutcheon, added: “The council’s differ-
ent area committees have been 
able to discuss the plans for Annan and Kirkcudbright courts, but Wigtownshire councillors didn’t get the 
chance to discuss the proposals to end jury trials at Stranraer.

“I can understand why the council may have missed the implications for Stranraer because it is buried in the consultation document, but 
the court service and Scottish government should do the 
right thing and extend the 
consultation to give council­lors time to debate the matter and prepare a thorough consultation response. This 
will have significant impli­cations for people Stranraer.

“Not only will people have to travel a round trip of up to 190 miles from Wigtownshire to attend a jury trial in Dumfries but it will impact on the quality of legal support people will receive.

“If they engage a local solicitor in Stranraer, much of their time will be spent travelling back and forward to Dumfries when they would prefer to be working for their clients. There is also a danger that people will choose to use solicitors in Dumfries and that will impact on local Wigtownshire businesses.”

They have submitted a formal request to have the deadline extended.

But opposition has been voiced from various sources, who say such closures would have a wider effect on the local economy of the towns involved.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which has 20,000 members in Scotland, has written to the Rt Hon Lord Gill, chairman of the Scottish Courts Service (SCS) board, arguing that the court estate reforms – which will also affect five Justice of the Peace courts – will damage footfall and hit jobs in the areas where the courts are due to close.

Under the proposals, sheriff courts in Alloa, Arbroath, Cupar, Dingwall, Dornoch, Duns, Haddington, Kirkcudbright, Peebles, Roth­esay and Stonehaven may shut. Justice of the Peace courts in Annan, Coatbridge, Cumbernauld, Irvine and Motherwell are also marked for closure. The programme is likely to save £1.4 million a year.

SCS argues that since these courts employ relatively few people locally, the closures will have a limited economic impact.

However, the FSB con­tends that the passing trade generated by courts is very important to the local business community, especially retailers.

An SCS spokeswoman said: “Those courts proposed for closure have been identified due to their low volumes of court business and their proximity to other court buildings, which should reduce the impact their closure could be expected to have on the area.”