The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has voted by five to four to close ten sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts across Scotland.
SNP members of the committee voted against annulments to the closure orders, meaning that the sheriff courts at Dornoch, Kirkcudbright and Rothesay will close in November 2013, with Arbroath, Cupar and Stonehaven to close in May 2014, followed by Haddington, Dingwall, Duns and Peebles in January 2015. Justice of the peace courts in Annan, Irvine, Motherwell, Cumbernauld, Portree, Stornoway and Wick also face being closed.
The proposals are part of the Scottish Court Service’s recommendations for the restructuring of court services in Scotland.
The SCS is seeking to save £4.5m from its revenue budget and £6.4m from its capital budget in the period 2011- 2012 to 2014-2015. The court closures and a move towards 16 specialist jury centres are part of what it describes as “stark” but “proportionate” reforms to Scotland’s court structure.
However, critics believe the plans could in fact slow down proceedings and increase costs.
The Sheriffs’ Association has described the proposals as “fundamentally flawed”, while the Law Society of Scotland has warned that the changes “seriously threaten access to justice”.
Earlier this month, lawyers held a public demonstration over the proposed closures outside the Scottish Parliament.
Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson Alison McInnes MSPdescribed the decision as “the beginning of the end for local justice in Scotland”.
She said: “SNP members of the committee have shown complete contempt for their constituents in voting to close down local courts in Cupar, Stonehaven, Peebles, Haddington and around the country.
“To make the argument to save their local courts and yet blithely vote for the Government demonstrates a complete lack of respect.
“Kenny MacAskill may try to shirk responsibility, but these are his plans. He is responsible for ending Scotland’s proud tradition of delivering justice at the heart of local communities.”