Concerns over plans to close Sheriff Court

Proposals to close Stonehaven Sheriff Court have been met with concern by a local MSP.

Stonehaven Sheriff court is one of 11 sheriff courts across the country earmarked for closure as part of cost saving measures by the Scottish Courts Service.

Nanette Milne, Scottish Conservative MSP for the North East, has expressed her concern over the impact this decision would have for justice for rural communities.

She said: “In the current economic climate it is right that the Scottish Court Service is looking at ways to make savings and to deliver services in a more cost effective way. However, such a reduction in the number of courts should only be made if the overall capacity for processing criminal and civil cases is not adversely affected.

“This review should not become another opportunity for the SNP Government to pursue its soft touch agenda by reducing the number of cases which are prosecuted in favour of prosecutors issuing more warnings and fiscal fines.

“A reduction in the number of courts should only be made if the capacity for processing criminal and civil cases is not adversely affected. I fail to see how this is achievable by the proposal to close more than a third of Scotland’s sheriff courts.

“These proposed changes require careful consideration, especially in rural areas where the presence of a local court can save time and money. As the Scottish Court Service itself accepts, court closures will impact on travel time and this could lead to trials being delayed.

“Simply closing courts without properly examining the consequences will expose ministers to charges of pursuing a soft-touch agenda which short changes the victims of crime.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. The closure of rural courts will inevitably inconvenience members of the public and take away from the front line policing duties of police officers. Before any decisions are taken it is vital that SNP Ministers take on board the views expressed by Court staff, volunteers and members of the Crown Office, Procurator Fiscal Service and Scottish Prison Service before ploughing ahead with the closure plans.

“Simply closing courts without properly examining the consequences will expose SNP Ministers to charges of pursuing a soft-touch agenda which short changes the victims of crime, particularly those living in rural communities.”

The identification of the at-risk courts comes following the publication of a consultation document by the Scottish Courts Service into the future of Courts in Scotland.

The report proposes that the business of Stonehaven Court be moved to Aberdeen in 2013-2014

Consulation on the plans will now run for three months before a final decision is made.