CLOSING Haddington Sheriff Court and switching its work to Edinburgh will cost the public more than £500,000, campaigners claimed today.
They used official figures supplied by the Scottish Court Service (SCS) to calculate the costs of the controversial move.
And they say the higher daily running costs at Edinburgh Sheriff Court dwarf the supposed savings claimed for shutting the Haddington court, which is hundreds of years old.
Their claims have been disputed by the Scottish Court Service, who said the decision to close Haddington court was based on a “robust” evaluation.
Lawyer Angela Craig, a leading figure in the campaign to save Haddington, said it was the third busiest court in the Lothian and Borders area after Edinburgh and Livingston.
She said the SCS figures showed the cost of each sitting day in Haddington – including the sheriffs, courtroom, clerks, bar officers and admin staff – was £2415, compared with an equivalent cost of £4045 for Edinburgh.
She said: “To transfer the court business from Haddington to Edinburgh they would have to provide facilities for that level of work and the costs at Haddington are significantly less than in Edinburgh.
“Moving the Haddington business and accommodating that in Edinburgh would mean £500,000 per annum in additional costs. That’s a staggering amount of money.”
She said SCS had claimed the Haddington closure would save around £80,000.
“But almost half of that is depreciation on the building, which is an accountants’ saving, it’s not cash in anyone’s pocket,” she said. “The actual saving they can claim is around £47,000.”
Ms Craig said Haddington also met its official targets for dealing with different types of cases while Edinburgh did not.
She said: “If Edinburgh does not meet its targets with all the business it has now, how is it going to meet them when it has a whole lot more business to cope with?”
She said the programme of court closures was supposed to be about improving access to justice. “Presumably they believe the transfer from Haddington to Edinburgh will provide better access to justice and/or an economic advantage to the public purse. But neither of these things add up.”
Forensic accountant Alex McLaren, who examined the financial implications of the closure on behalf of campaigners, said there were also additional costs of £85,826 a year for people like social workers, currently based in the same building as the court, travelling to Edinburgh and £34,260 on travelling costs for court staff.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was criticised for endorsing the plan to close Haddington just days after the SCS report was published last month.
The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee is looking into the closure plans and has called for submissions on the issue by Tuesday.
A spokesman for the Scottish Court Service said: “The SCS recommendations are based on robust financial cost and benefit evaluation. We are confident in our conclusions.”