Sheriff court under threat

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POLITICIANS local and national, along with the legal profession, have joined forces to fight any plans to close Selkirk Sheriff Court.

The future of the majestic building in Ettrick Terrace, pictured right, is called into question in a leaked internal discussion document from the Scottish Courts Service (SCS) which is facing a 20 per cent budget cut.

The maintenance of court buildings, most which date from the 19th century, currently accounts for 40 per cent of SCS expenditure.

Selkirk, the most expensive of the four Borders courts to run, is proposed for closure because it covers a town with a population of less than 20,000 and is within 20 miles of another bigger court – in our case Jedburgh.

Also earmarked for closure because they are not deemed busy enough are the sheriff courts in Duns and Peebles, the latter already being serviced by clerk, fiscal and judiciary services based in Selkirk.

Selkirkshire’s SNP councillor Kenneth Gunn was quick to condemn any moves to shut the Selkirk facility.

“The costs to both local legal firms and those who need the services of the Selkirk Sheriff Court for civil as well as criminal matters would be greatly added to if this court, the closest to the centre of the Borders, was to close,” he told The Wee Paper.

“With the state of roads in this area and the lack of a fast connection with Edinburgh, it would be totally unacceptable for SCS to even contemplate any such move.

“On top of that, of course, there is the great history of justice being meted out close to the community and here in Selkirk we have the added distinction which is known worldwide of Sir Walter Scott’s distinguished role as local sheriff.

“Even the Bank of Scotland, which in other ways seems to be submerged in an international conglomerate, keeps The Shirra’s head on its banknotes and to lose the court would be unthinkable.”

Selkirk defence lawyer Iain Burke said he shared the concerns of his professional faculty which covers Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire.

“Given the geography of the Borders, we cannot see that there are economies of scale in closing Peebles as the recent reorganisation of the Borders court service has resulted in Peebles being manned from Selkirk Sheriff Court at a minimal cost,” said Mr Burke.

“The suggested closure of both Peebles and Selkirk courts is of real concern. In addition to the work carried out by Selkirk for Peebles there is a tremendous amount of work being processed by Selkirk Sheriff Court.

“Edinburgh Sheriff Court is currently in chaos and not coping with the workload it has and we would have real concerns about the effects of that workload being increased by work from the Borders.

“A motion lodged in Selkirk is dealt with in 14 days whereas Edinburgh seems unable to turn around such a motion within two months. In family matters involving children that delay can be quite devastating.

“The faculty is proposing that we have an urgent meeting with those concerned Scottish Borders Council councillors and MSPs to enable us to agree a concerted approach to this very worrying development.

Local Conservative MSP John Lamont said the closure of Selkirk and Duns, which is also in his constituency, would be “a severe blow for the court system in the Borders”.

“In rural areas like the Borders, the presence of local courts can save time and money by providing a nearby link to our justice system.”