MSPs clash over Peebles court closure plans

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Two local MSPs have entered a war of words over the planned closure of Peebles Sheriff Court by the Scottish Courts Service, writes Adam Drummond.

Jim Hume launched the initial attack, aiming at the SNP’s Christine Grahame.

The Liberal Democrat said Ms Grahame had toed the party line and backed the justice reforms in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Hume said: “Christine Grahame tells her constituents in Peebles that she opposes the court closures, and yet she continues to toe the SNP party line in Edinburgh by endorsing her own government’s closure plans.

“Is this the kind of backtracking Borderers should come to expect from Christine Grahame?”

He also called on Ms Grahame to stand up for both Borders courts faced with the axe.

Peebles Sheriff Court.

Peebles Sheriff Court.

“As convenor of the justice committee, Christine Grahame can object to these plans and force a vote of the full parliament, so the future of the Peebles and Duns sheriff courts is entirely in her hands.”

Mr Hume believes that, by the slenderest majority, the justice committee back the proposals to close courts around Scotland in a cost-cutting scheme. However, if the committee supports a motion to annul the legislation, the decision will then be pushed to a full vote of the Holyrood legislature.

Responding to Mr Hume, Ms Grahame came out fighting.

She said: “I recall it was under the Liberal/Labour coalition that Peebles was threatened with the axe before and I fought hard for its retention, so the Liberals have ‘previous’ on this issue.

“I have consistently opposed the closure of Peebles court and said so in my submission to the Scottish Courts Service and in parliament, as is well publicised. Mr Hume must not have been there or indeed listening.”

Once again she reiterated her call for a justice centre to be established in Galashiels should the closure of Peebles goes ahead.

She added: “If it is to close then I have made it plain to the cabinet secretary that there must be a court in Galashiels which, being where the bus terminus is located and indeed the train station will be, makes sense.

“I know the Peebles solicitors see this as a reasonable option. In the transition, if this is to take place, cases will go to Selkirk and not Edinburgh. Borders justice will continue to be delivered locally.”

Following the Scottish Parliament’s approval of the closure plan last month, a draft parliamentary order putting in place the necessary legislation to close the courts was produced.

The court service has to consult various organisations before consenting to the draft order by May 17, which will go before the justice committee.

The Scottish Courts Service is trying to save £11million by 2015 and estimates £4million a year can be saved by the closures.

If given final approval, Peebles and Duns courts would close in January 2015.