CAMPAIGNERS have vowed that the fight to save Haddington Sheriff Court is not over – after a public meeting backed a new plan to dispense justice in the town.
Almost 150 people attended the meeting in St Mary’s Kirk, where a proposal for a new Summary Sheriff Court was outlined by solicitors and backed by politicians.
The campaign is calling on the Scottish Government, which has announced plans to introduce new Summary Sheriff Courts, to bring one in Haddington.
The move would mean the court would continue to rule on summary criminal cases as well as overseeing civil matters like custody disputes, family mediation and the estates of people who had died.
More serious cases would have to be dealt with in Edinburgh.
Under the new system, summary sheriffs are expected to be paid 20 per cent less than traditional judges. It is thought the new summary sheriffs will be deployed by next year.
Angela Craig, the solicitor leading the fight to save the court, said the summary court could be a modern centre for justice.
She said. “One of the arguments for closing the court was that we need to create a 21st century justice system with all facilities situated close by and working together. Haddington has that – and a rapidly rising population, which will mean more court business – yet the court is closing. It makes no sense.
“I recognise public money is tight, but the summary sheriff plan addresses this. The Scottish Court Service insists Edinburgh Sheriff Court can cope with the extra business from Haddington but I have very sincere doubts – and I am not alone.”
Other concerns are significant wasted time for police, social workers and witnesses travelling to Edinburgh for adjourned or delayed cases – and an increase in the time taken to deal with sensitive family cases and the winding up of estates. East Lothian Council, which has taken ownership of the court building, has confirmed it will offer to lease it back to the Scottish Court Service for a “non-profit” fee.
The court closure programme means East Lothian is the only county in southern Scotland without any court provision – despite its rapid population growth which will see its population rise by an estimated 25,000 over the next decade.
Iain Gray, MSP for East Lothian, said: “We have made arguments of history, of justice, of economy and of sheer practicality. We now have a positive new proposal and we need to take that forward with persistence and refuse to take no for an answer – I believe that we have not yet heard the final word on this.”
Willie Innes, leader of East Lothian Council, backed the summary sheriffs proposal.
He said: “Securing local, accessible court services is worth fighting for.”