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Cumbernauld could lose Justice of the Peace court in proposed shake-up

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 22:15 GMT on Thursday, 11th April, 2013.
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CUMBERNAULD could lose its Justice of the Peace court, following a Scottish Court Service report.

The report, published earlier this week, has recommended the closure of ten sheriff courts and seven Justice of the Peace courts across Scotland.

Any closures are subject to Parliamentary approval, although the sheriff courts in Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright, Peebles, Rothesay, Cupar, Dingwall, Arbroath, Haddington and Stonehaven will be closed, with business transferred to nearby locations.  Meanwhile, Justice of the Peace courts in Annan, Irvine, Motherwell, Cumbernauld, Portree, Stornoway and Wick will also shut.

The SCS report further recommends that High Court cases are heard predominately in three dedicated centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, also suggesting a move towards "specialist jury centres" at certain sheriff courts over a longer ten-year period.

The proposed closures come as the SCS faces further budgetary pressure, according to chief executive Eric McQueen. 

McQueen said: "By 2015 the court service running cost budget will reduce by 20% in real terms and the capital budget will reduce from £20m to £4m.

"There needs to be changes in the way we operate and deliver our services.”

Mr McQueen recognised that the proposed recommendations “sound stark” but argued that they are “proportionate”. 

He added: "These recommendations may sound stark but they are proportionate. The volume of business transacted in the sheriff courts recommended for closure is around 5% of the overall court business."

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Throughout the consultation period, proposals attracted fierce criticism, with warnings that local economies could suffer with further cause difficulties and inconveniences for victims and witnesses, with too much pressure on other courts. Despite the criticisms, Mr McQueen said the number of public members affected by the closures will be "very small".

He continued: "We make it clear that there would be no sense, and no benefit for us, simply to overload courts to a level that was unmanageable.

"We believe that instead of investing in all our current buildings we must invest our energy and resources in making better use of technology including video links and online processes.

"Investment should be targeted to improve services and facilities for users in a smaller number of court buildings."

The SCS has since submitted their report and recommendations to Scottish Government ministers and the final decision on the closures rests with Holyrood.

North-east MSP Alex Johnstone said: “I have been working with the local solicitors in Arbroath and Stonehaven for months now to demonstrate the need for keeping these courts open.

"It is deeply disappointing that the SNP Scottish Government have chosen to ignore the expert opinions of the legal profession in making this decision. I believe that the case for retaining both Arbroath and Stonehaven courts was both overwhelming and compelling and there is no doubt in my mind that the justice system has suffered a real blow because of this.

"I firmly believe that justice must be delivered locally, and be seen to be delivered too. Closing local courts is not the way to inspire confidence in our justice system. It is clear that once again, the SNP Government has simply bulldozed over expert and public opinion, and in my view, this is another nail in the coffin of a justice system that was once the envy of the world.

"The bottom line however is that this decision must come before the Scottish Parliament, and until then I will continue to work hard with other stakeholders to keep these courts open.”

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) - which represents administrative staff in the courts service - said it was "extremely disappointed" by the recommendations.

Brian Carroll, secretary of the PCS Scottish courts branch, said: "Despite substantial opposition and high level of negative responses to the consultation, the original proposals have survived almost totally intact.

"We are sure that this decision will be greeted with dismay, not just by our members who will be affected, but also within the communities they serve."

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