Court bosses in the dock over closure threats

Dr Linsey Neil, community council, selkirk
Dr Linsey Neil, community council, selkirk

SELKIRK Community Council has sent a strong message that it will not countenance the loss of the town’s Sheriff Court.

The threat to the landmark facility in Ettrick Terrace was highlighted in a leaked internal review document from the Scottish Court Service (SCS) which, although facing budget cuts, is adamant that no decisions have been made.

The document also flagged up the possible demise of the courts in Peebles and Dun. If all the closures went ahead, the Borders would be left with a single sheriff court, at Jedburgh.

On behalf of the community council, vice-chairman Dr Lindsay Neil has written to SCS headquarters in Edinburgh to explain why the closure of Selkirk court would be “a bad idea”.

He wrote: “The area currently served by the Selkirk Court is central in the Borders, geographically well circumscribed and with good road communication as it lies on the A7 trunk road.

“Adequate north, south and local public transport exists and attendants at court have little difficulty getting there, except in very bad weather.

“The first recorded Sheriff of Selkirk, Andrew de Synton [Synton is an extinct barony located four miles from Selkirk] was appointed by King William the Lion in the late 12th century.

“Apart from a brief tenure in 1334 by an Englishman, Robert de Maners, following the battle of Halidon Hill, the sheriffdom has been continuously held by Scottish incumbents for nigh on 750 years.

“Today, the population served by the court is roughly 40,000, drawn mainly from the towns and districts of Hawick, Galashiels, Melrose and Selkirk itself.

“Were Selkirk to close, the Peebles court would also have to close as the court staff are shared between the two and staffing just one court would be uneconomic.

“Owing to the difficulties of east-west public transport, closing a court in the eastern Borders and transferring its function to the central-western Borders, or vice versa, would cause considerable travel hardship.

“More acceptable from the transport standpoint would be if the functions were transferred to Edinburgh, but all of the above arrangements for a perceived short-term economic reason would result in increased court congestion, witness non-attendance, hugely escalated police costs and manpower problems, and an administrative nightmare. All represent bad options.

“Besides the shrieval duties, the sheriff plays an important part in the fabric of this ancient town and has done since past times.

“The contribution of Sir Walter Scott to Selkirk redounds to this day. We have court records, many recently discovered, going back to the 1500s and many records of Sir Walter Scott’s 32 years as sheriff.

“We would advocate other ways of saving court costs, principally by reducing inefficiency and the wasting of court time.

“The community of Selkirk, democratically represented by this council, will oppose any attempt to close the Selkirk Sheriff Court. It would be sheer madness to close what has obtained for 750 years as a necessary part of local administration and has fulfilled the role admirably.

“It strikes us that it would be as if Scotland was perceived as never before, having experienced a period of penuriousness, and that 750 years of combined human intelligence can be blithely discarded and ignored.

“That would be in defiance of history and the quintessence of hubris.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Borders Council has overwhelmingly deplored any closure threat to the courts in Selkirk, Peebles and Duns.