Councillors fight for Peebles court

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LOCAL councillors in Peebles are lobbying politicians to save the town’s sheriff court.

Peebles Community Council has written criticising the proposal to shut the facility saying they “vigorously defend the right of the people of Tweeddale to have access to justice and strongly recommend that our court remains in Peebles”.

The letter has been sent to local MP David Mundell, MSP Christine Grahame, local Scottish Borders Councillors and Sheriff Kevin Drummond.

In it they say: “There will be no significant saving by closing the court in Peebles. In all likelihood costs will increase as there will be a marked increase in the amount of time spent by the police and Criminal Justice Services in travelling to alternate venues as well as the additional costs incurred by members of the public.”

Instead they point to the court already being co-located with SBC and police officers “on a site which only recently was modernised for exactly that purpose,” adding: “This achieves considerable cost savings and improves the administration of justice.”

The councillors are also concerned about people getting justice. They say: “The closure of the court will prevent large numbers of people having access to justice. Travelling time and cost will prevent some sections of the population from achieving access to the justice system.

“Over time it seems likely that associated services (lawyers, criminal justice teams) will migrate to the locality of the nearest court thus further reducing the access to justice for a large portion of the population.

“In addition some people will be limited in their ability to attend court because of disability or financial hardship. Locally administered justice is a significant and important objective.

“The court in Peebles has survived earlier threats precisely because the strength of the arguments in favour of preserving local courts were so compelling.”

And they also say: “Justice should not only be able to be done, it should be seen to be done. Moving court services away from the locality will prevent many people having access to court and will also reduce their access through reports in the press. It is important that the justice service is not undermined by any potential move and that access to justice remains fair for all members of the population.”

The threat to the court is contained in a consultation paper on the future of Scotland’s court structure published at the end of last month.

In it the Scottish Court Service (SCS) announced its intention to close the Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace courts in Peebles and Duns next year, transferring business to Edinburgh and Jedburgh.

The SCS cites “low volumes of business” as the reason to close Peebles and admits the cost-saving measure would increase travel distances and costs for people going to court.

The proposed cuts have been criticised by members of the legal profession who fear a loss of access to justice.

Earlier this month Sheriff Drummond told TheSouthern he believed both the Tweeddale and Berwickshire courts could be saved, telling us: “Peebles represents a model for the provision of rural justice services.... There are no building maintenance costs at Peebles and Peebles is run by the staff and sheriff in Selkirk.”

And he urged Borderers to make their views known. The proposals (Shaping Scotland’s Courts at www.scotcourts.gov.uk) are out to public consultation for 
three months. The deadline for responses to courtstructures @scotcourts.gov.uk is 
December 21.