Inquiry to be held into court closure plan

Peebles Sheriff Court.

Peebles Sheriff Court.

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A Scottish Parliament ­committee has called for evidence on how government-approved court closures will affect local access to justice.

Last Friday, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill agreed to the Scottish Court Service’s proposals to shut 10 sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts, stating they were “justified and compatible with wider justice reforms” given current financial constraints.

However, the cost-cutting plan, which would see Peebles and Duns courts close in January 2015, will now be subject to a justice committee inquiry.

Committee convener, Christine Grahame MSP, said: “It is vital that we get the full picture of how these proposals may impact on everything from court users to the provision of legal services and access to justice.

“Our call for evidence asks people in the communities directly affected by the proposed closures across Scotland how they feel about the changes.

“Do they feel that travelling further to a sheriff court as a witness will affect their access to justice? Or do they feel that the reforms will offer court users an improved and specialist service in a concentrated area?”

Mr MacAskill’s decision to back the court service’s scheme dismayed local MSPs.

Jim Hume said: “Justice is best delivered as locally as possible, and these closures could jeopardise access to the justice system.”

John Lamont added: “A huge majority of those who responded to the court service’s consultation stated opposition to these closures, but these voices have once again gone unheard.”

A draft parliamentary order putting in place the necessary legislation to close the courts has been produced.

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

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