Angus North & Mearns MSP Nigel Don says if the people of Stonehaven want to keep their court, this is the time to rally round.
Speaking in advance of a meeting on Monday to discuss the court closure, Mr Don set out what he thinks needs to be done to save the courthouse.He said, “If we are to prevent the closure of the Court in Stonehaven, we need to marshal some strong arguments. Clearly there will be vigorous political spats ahead, but they will get us nowhere. We need facts and figures on our side.
“For me the strongest argument concerns the capacity of the Aberdeen court, which sits for a maximum of 2250 days. Currently it runs at 84% of capacity, or 1,892 days. The closure proposals would mean Aberdeen running at 97% of capacity (2185 days). That appears to leave very little headroom for unexpected events, or maintenance. If there is a plan to invest in Aberdeen Sheriff Court, we need to know what that is, how much it is expected to cost and when it will go ahead.
“The next powerful argument is about cost savings. If we can demonstrate that there will not be any real savings then the case for moving the business is greatly weakened.
“Are there any costs in making this change which have not been included in the calculations? Could we avoid capital expenditure in Aberdeen, and therefore significant loan costs, if the court in Stonehaven remained open?
“Arguments about travel time and distance are perhaps not so strong. There are good transport links to Aberdeen and the two towns are only 15 miles apart.
“Equally the existence of previous Acts of Parliament establishing the Stonehaven court ‘for all time’ could be significant, but I suspect the Scottish Court Service’s lawyers are aware of these. I have written to the Cabinet Secretary asking him to check whether these Acts have already been considered.
“The Justice Committee has issued a call for evidence with submissions to be in by May 21st. I’d be very interested to hear comments on the above, and to hear any other arguments which may prove useful. Clearly I will be working on these questions too and would be happy to share information.
“The matter of cost savings is crucial. If anyone working locally has information which could help us show that closing this court will not save money, we need that information now.”
Mr Don said the meeting on Monday involved local activists campaigning to save their court.
“We’re at the eleventh hour, but if we can present a strong case to the Justice Committee, there is still hope. If we cannot demonstrate a strong business case, then it will be difficult to persuade the Government to change this plan.”
All are welcome to attend the public meeting, which will take place at Stonehaven Community Centre on Monday, May 13, at 6pm.