Moore’s ‘grave concerns’ over court closure plans

Borders MP Michael Moore is keeping up the pressure on the Scottish Government to save two Border courts from closure.

The MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk has, for the second time, written to the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to express his grave concerns about possible court closures in Duns and Peebles.

Just over a year ago, plans surfaced that the Scottish Court Service (SCS) had earmarked courts in Duns, Selkirk and Peebles for closure.

At the time, Mr Moore, the Secretary of State for Scotland, contacted the Justice Secretary at Holyrood to raise his concerns about these proposals, which he feared would reduce the speed of, and accessibility to, justice for victims of crime in the Borders.

Since then, the SCS has decided to keep the Selkirk court open, but plans remain to close those in Peebles and Duns.

A public consultation was launched on these proposals last autumn, and closed on December 21. A summary of the responses is due to be published in the spring. Should the SCS decide to recommend court closures following the consultation, the final decision would be made by the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Moore said: “While I welcome that the proposal to close the court in Selkirk was not included in the consultation, I am still deeply concerned about the plan to close the court at Duns.

“Such a move would restrict access to justice for local people and cut a service that delivers local, accessible and efficient justice to communities across Berwickshire. This is why I am fully backing the campaign to save the court, and I will do all I can to prevent this closure from coming to fruition.

“Last year, a number of my constituents contacted me about this issue and I wrote to Kenny MacAskill. Having received further letters of concern from local groups and individuals in Berwickshire, I have written again to Mr MacAskill this week to once again express my grave concerns about these plans.”

In late December last year, the proposal to close Peebles and Duns Sheriff Courts was also given a damning verdict by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The membership organisation said if the two courts are shut, retailers in both towns would suffer.

The FSB accused the Scottish Court Service of not taking into account the wider economic implications of closing the courts in a letter to Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Gill, who is chairman of the SCS board.

The FSB’s Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox asked Lord Gill to undertake a detailed town centre analysis before making any recommendations to the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Goverment faces further strong resistance in the Borders, with Scottish Borders Council and a firm of local solicitors both against its legal reforms.

In its response to the public consultation, SBC “strongly opposed” the cost-cutting closures, while Border legal firm Bannerman Burke has vowed to join a nationwide strike by Scottish lawyers over its cuts to legal aid.

Ian Wilkie, head of legal and democratic services for SBC, said: “I am fairly positive that the SCS will take our response forward and I do hope we can open up discussions with them on this with a view to them reconsidering the proposals.”