Court could close to move with the times

The consultation period for the proposed closure of Stonehaven Sheriff Court is almost up and the Scottish Court Service have said the proposal is in preparation of being “well prepared” for the future.

The closing date for anyone wishing to voice their concerns over the potential closure of our local court is at noon on 21 December.

Stonehaven Sheriff Court is facing closure as it’s in the proposal to close down “sheriff courts in close proximity to each other”.

The Scottish Court Service (SCS) have selected courts that have another Sheriff Court within 20 miles where they believe there is capacity to take additional business, or where the capacity can become available as a consequence of other changes.

The consultations papers from the SCS say that they accept that a more centralised approach to the delivery of sheriff and jury business may increase the travel distance for some people attending, and say: “The reforms which we anticipate in the use of video and Internet technology to reduce or eliminate the need for personal appearance at a courthouse will mitigate the effects of our proposals. And we are continuing to provide local access to summary justice, which in the court business most citizens will encounter.”

The SCS could face potential difficulties with the Stonehaven Sheriff Court building if it was to remain open. In the consultation papers it states: “The present arrangement of sheriff courts has been largely settled since the 1970s, although the networks of courts located in forty nine of the historic centres throughout the country, reflects more the social and economic needs of the Victorian age. Many of the courthouses constructed then continue in use today; and in most the full range of court service is still provided, notwithstanding the facilities in the courthouse do not always meet fully the standards and expectations of a modern court system.”

In some locations, the SCS state “improvement is not physically possible owing to the original design and structure” of the older buildings and that funding of the levels available in the past, “will not be available in the foreseeable future.”

The Scottish Court Service state they are “satisfied” that business from Stonehaven could be accommodated satisfactorily at Aberdeen Sheriff Court without detriment to existing waiting periods.

The consultation paper states: “We cannot close courts at our own hands. That is a matter for Scottish Ministers to place before the Scottish Parliament. But we must consult before we put our proposals forward to Ministers.”

Once consultation closes the SCS will analyse all responses and publish a summary of the consultation. They’ll consider the outcome before they make a final decision on the matters discussed. Should they recommend court closures, it would be for Scottish Ministers to submit the necessary statutory orders to the Scottish Parliament where the orders may be debated. The final decision on whether a court should close rests with the Scottish parliament.