Stonehaven Sheriff court faces closure

Stonehaven Sheriff Court is facing closure as the Scottish Court Service looks to put cost cutting measures in place.

The Sheriff Court in Stonehaven is one of eleven Courts which have been identified as suitable for closure by the Scottish Courts Service. This follows the publication of a consultation document by the Scottish Courts Service into the future of Courts in Scotland.

Sheriff Courts identified as sites for closure include those with low volumes of business and those with other courts “in proximity”.

The report said: “We are satisfied that the business of Cupar, Dingwall, Stonehaven and Haddington could be accommodated satisfactorily, and without detriment to existing waiting periods, in the sheriff courts at Dundee, Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh respectively.”

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

Residents of Stonehaven have raised concerns about the move, with many voicing their worries for job losses and others saying that a move to Aberdeen would mean that those living in Stonehaven would not see justice being done, with the courts losing transparency. The travel involved in cases being held in Aberdeen was also a concern among residents.

MSP Alex Johnstone has also voiced concern about the plans. He said: “I’m very concerned that the need to see justice done on a community basis is being undermined by this.

“They always say that justice not only needs to be done but needs to be seen to be done and having courts in the community is a vital part of that.

“I suspect there will be a backlog in Aberdeen if this goes ahead. Moving Stonehaven into an already busy court in Aberdeen will create a burden.

“It’s important in a town like Stonehaven we still have solicitors that do court work and there’s a strong likelihood we will lose that if there is not a court here. People’s access to systems of justice will be undermined if we lose the solicitors here in Stonehaven.

“There’s a lack of logic in this process and what’s happened previously, with cases being transferred to Stonehaven, demonstrates that we should be looking to use facilities as well as possible.

“In these circumstances the bean counters got in ahead of people whose job it is to ensure justice in these communities.”

Consultation on the plans will now run for three months before a final decision is made, with the SCS inviting written responses to the consultation.

Eric McQueen, executive director of SCS, said: “We have to provide a court structure that provides access to justice for the people of Scotland, along with the facilities and services which they have a right to expect.

“That structure has to reflect the planned reforms to the justice system and at the same time be affordable in the long term. We already know the status quo is not an option.

“With greater levels of specialisation expected to result from the justice reforms, we anticipate the most serious types of business being heard in fewer locations. “Many of our court buildings were built in Victorian times and are both expensive to maintain and difficult to adapt to modern needs.

“Fewer court buildings would allow SCS to target future investment to ensure that the best possible facilities and level of service is available for all court users but more particularly for victims, witnesses, and vulnerable people.

“We accept that having fewer court buildings, as proposed, will impact on travel distances for some people and the consultation paper sets out the likely impact of the proposed changes.

“For most people, attending court is a rare experience and future court services will seek to reduce this requirement through greater use of technology and online services.”