‘Shirra’ cited in court debate

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SELKIRKSHIRE councillors will unite later this month in a bid to strangle at birth any plans to close Selkirk Sheriff Court.

In so doing, they will echo the demands of the six elected members from the two Tweeddale wards who want Scottish Borders Council to deplore any proposal to close Peebles Sheriff Court and are urging Scottish Government intervention to secure its future.

The motions will be considered at the SBC meeting on January 26 following revelations, in a leaked document from the Scottish Court Service (SCS), that the Peebles and Duns courts, which sit on a Wednesday, should close because they are not busy enough. Selkirk, which sits on a Monday and Tuesday, is suggested for closure because it serves a population of less than 20,000 and is within 20 miles of another, bigger court (Jedburgh). It is also the most expensive of the region’s four shrieval centres to maintain.

The SCS is facing a 20 per cent funding cut and spends around 40 per cent of its budget on the upkeep of the court estate, with most buildings dating from the 19th century.

But Selkirkshire SNP councillor Kenneth Gunn believes the history of the Selkirk court, where Sir Walter Scott administered justice two centuries ago, should be taken into account. “Even the Bank of Scotland keeps the Shirra’s head on its banknotes, so to lose the court, which is known worldwide, would be unthinkable,” he told us.

His motion, to be seconded by Tory councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre, will call on SBC to “fight any proposals to close or reduce the work of Selkirk Sheriff Court” and demands an early statement from the SCS that the court “will be maintained and strengthened”.

An SCS spokesman said: “We have initiated a review which looks at what business should be done in different locations around the country, and an internal discussion document was prepared to promote this conversation with our staff and judicial members to help us discuss practical issues to assist us to develop options for delivering the service in the future.

“As part of our fact finding, we wanted to make sure we fully understood local issues and could take these into account, along with other business analysis work we are undertaking.

“When this review work is complete, it will be our intention to produce ideas for further discussion and at that stage we will want to involve a wide representation of interested groups and individuals to help us develop and improve our proposals.

“It is too soon to speculate on the future of any particular court, but any proposal to close a court will require a full public consultation ... and ultimately a decision by the Scottish Parliament.”