Concerns are being expressed that the creation of a justice centre in Galashiels will be the death knell for every sheriff court in the Borders.
The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee heard evidence on proposed court closures on Tuesday from Eric McQueen, the chief executive of the Scottish Court Service.
Mr McQueen said a feasibility study is to be considered, looking to see if a justice centre could be created to ‘serve the whole of the Borders’.
John Lamont MSP said the news was a ‘bombshell’.
He added: “This is a thoroughly disappointing statement from the Scottish Courts Service, and shows that despite having already shut half of the courts in the Borders they are still looking to close more.”
Mr Lamont added: “It will only lead to a further restriction on access to our courts and will cause further delays in an already overburdened system.”
Various parties, including the council, are due to meet early next month to discuss a justice centre.
Tracey Logan, SBC chief executive, said: “The council is aiming to protect local access to justice and we are actively working with the Scottish Court Service to achieve this.
“One option is a proposal to develop a state of the art Borders justice centre and we are setting up a joint project to consider feasibility and options.”
Peebles and Duns sheriff courts are currently proposed for closure.
Christine Grahame MSP, convener of the justice committee, has opposed the closure of Peebles Sheriff Court, but has equally been vocal in her calls for a justice centre in Galashiels.
Just last week, Ms Grahame told TheSouthern: “The principle that there will be a justice centre in Galashiels has been agreed and I have been assured that the funding is available through the Scottish Court Service to ensure that Borders justice remains in the Borders and will be delivered in a justice centre in Galashiels.”
She added that there was ‘no question’ that it would be created if Peebles Sheriff Court closed.
Mr Lamont has now called on Ms Grahame to explain her rationale for supporting a justice centre if it means Jedburgh and Selkirk courts will also face the axe.
Mr Lamont said: “It is time for those in the SNP who have voiced support for having a justice centre to come out and explain why they think it will be beneficial.
“It is now clear that it will only lead to the closure of more courts and I know that many local residents will be totally against the idea.” Local solicitor Iain Burke said the money that would be spent on a justice centre would be better used to improve the facilities in the existing courts in the Borders. He added that a justice centre in the Borders would not solve any of the problems associated with the closure of Peebles and Duns.
If a majority of the committee oppose the closure plans then the full Parliament will get to vote on the issue.
Ten sheriff courts across Scotland are facing closure.