Court ‘focal point’ of local justice . . .

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North East MSP Richard Baker this week described the lack of support for local courts by SNP MSPs as ‘‘a damning indictment of their support for locally delivered justice.’’

The MSP was set to question Ministers on this in Holyrood as the Leader went to print yesterday (Wednesday).

After a debate in Holyrood last week, led by Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Lewis Macdonald, SNP MSPs voted to close courts across the country, including Stonehaven, which was unopposed by Nigel Don MSP.

The cuts mean that victims and witnesses will have to travel further, at greater cost and with longer journey times. In addition, concerns have been expressed that towns will see a dramatic impact on their economy as courts close and local businesses suffer.

Mr Baker warned that police officers would see more hours wasted in court as witnesses were more likely to fail to show up.

He added: “Local courts aren’t just buildings, they are a focal point for locally-delivered justice.

‘‘Nigel Don has, in the past, raised concerns about the closure of Stonehaven Sheriff Court so I can’t understand why he did not oppose the decision in parliament when given the opportunity to do so. This was a chance to put the case strongly for the court to remain open.

“This move will be bad for witnesses and victims but will also mean more wasted hours for police officers - waiting for witnesses that will more often now fail to show up because of increased travelling times.

“Mr Salmond keeps on painting a picture of an idyllic Scotland post independence but in this move we see the real SNP - closing local services and letting down victims of crime.

‘‘There is not much of the Braveheart spirit standing up for Scotland on the SNP benches on this important issue.”

However, while voting with his party on the issue of the courts closure, Mr Don has said that he feels an argument has to be made for saving Stonehaven Sheriff Court.

He added: “In my view, the way to keep the courthouse in Stonehaven is to make the best possible business case for doing so.

‘‘I am far from convinced that the Aberdeen courthouse can cope with the business coming from Stonehaven, and it may be that the savings from closure are overstated.

“We need to ensure the Justice Committee hears all the arguments and has all the evidence it needs to produce credible recommendations. It is still possible that this decision could be changed, and everyone needs to work together to that end.”