Fears for future of local justice

Jedburgh Sheriff Court
Jedburgh Sheriff Court

Sweeping changes to the court system in the Borders are more radical than was envisaged, The Southern can reveal.

Peebles and Duns sheriff courts have now closed and it was widely thought that Peebles business would switch to Selkirk and Duns hearings move to Jedburgh.

But we have learned all cases, criminal and civil, will be heard one week at Jedburgh and the next in Selkirk – creating in essence a single court for the entire Borders, sitting five days a week.

There will be just one sheriff, with part-timers drafted in when necessary. Monday will be for criminal pleas, Tuesday for criminal trials, Wednesday for JP courts and civil work, Thursday for criminal trials and Friday for civil hearings that require witnesses.

Solicitors fear all jury trials will be switched to Edinburgh and that people lifted and kept in police custody overnight or over a weekend will also be taken before a court in the capital, meaning longer journeys for lawyers and relatives.

Iain Burke, vice-dean of the Faculty of Solicitors in Selkirk and Peebles, told us: “My concern is that in the long term there will be a devaluing of the justice system in the Borders.”

His comments came after Sheriff Kevin Drummond, presiding at the final sitting in Peebles, blasted its closure.

He told the court: “I am confident that in a year or so, someone will exercise the powers available under the Freedom of Information Act and find out just how much has been saved from the public purse by the closure of this fine court.

“It has been a model for the provision of rural justice services across the country.”

On the day Duns closed, Mr Burke told us: “My concerns are what they have always been about court closures – the loss of court days, about witnesses and accused getting to court and about the loss of access to local justice.

“But we will wait and see how it works.”

It is expected that solicitors will discuss the changes after three to six months and then raise any problems with court staff and the sheriff.