Anger over court axe approval

MSP Iain Gray holds a box of letters objecting to the planned closure. Picture: Neil Hanna
MSP Iain Gray holds a box of letters objecting to the planned closure. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Campaigners have vowed to continue fighting the closure of Haddington Sheriff Court after it was announced the Scottish Court Service is to press ahead with the move.

A report by the SCS has recommended the closure of nine sheriff courts and justice of the peace courts, and seven justice of the peace courts as part of efforts to make savings.

The move would see cases at Haddington Sheriff Court and JP Court transferred to Edinburgh.

But East Lothian MSP Iain Gray said the fight to keep the courts in the town would go on.

He said: “I’m absolutely furious at this decision. There has been a court there for at least 800 years in one form or 
another.

“Victims seeking justice will now have to travel in to Edinburgh and a lot of people will feel that’s a difficult journey to a court that’s much bigger and more intimidating.

“There were over 150 substantial objections to the closure and thousands of signed postcards submitted in support of our courts.

“This was by far the greatest level of support for any of the courts listed for closure, yet the court service have simply ignored all of our arguments.”

The SCS made the decision after the Scottish Government announced its budget would be cut by 20 per cent in real terms by 2015.

But the final decision on the closures rests with Holyrood.

Mr Gray said he would continue to work with campaigners to maximise pressure on Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill as the final decision approaches.

SCS chief executive Eric McQueen said while the recommendations sounded “stark”, they were proportionate.

He added that instead of investing in all its current buildings, the SCS must invest in making better use of technology, including video links and online processes.

Victim Support spokesman David Sinclair said: “If people have to travel extra distances then the question is, will they do so? Whether you are a witness or a victim of crime, it will be an additional pressure on top of those you already face.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont MSP outlined his fears for Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

He said: “Not only will it have to cope with all the cases from Haddington, but there will also be a rise in civil cases going through the doors as well.

“It means more than 10,000 cases will now have to be allocated to those courts that remain. That has implications for everyone who works or uses the court.”