Campaigners warn MSPs over Haddington court axe

Haddington Sheriff Court is one of ten targeted for closure. Picture: Gordon Fraser
Haddington Sheriff Court is one of ten targeted for closure. Picture: Gordon Fraser
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CAMPAIGNERS fighting the closure of Haddington Sheriff Court are to “take the mountain to Mohammed” by demonstrating outside the Scottish Parliament while Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill gives evidence to the Justice Committee.

Mr MacAskill will be giving evidence on the report “Shaping Scotland’s Court Services”, which has recommended the closure of ten sheriff courts and 13 justice of the peace courts as part of efforts to make savings.

It was announced earlier this year that cases at Haddington Sheriff Court are set to be ­transferred to Edinburgh as part of the measures.

Campaigners say closing the court at Haddington, said to be the third-busiest in the country, would make it more difficult to deliver justice to victims of crime in the local community.

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray, who has campaigned strenuously against the closure, said: “We have repeatedly invited the justice secretary to meet with us and discuss our concerns, but he has always declined. The time has come to take the mountain to Mohammed.”

Campaigners claimed earlier this month that the higher daily running costs at Edinburgh Sheriff Court would dwarf the supposed savings from shutting the Haddington court, costing the public more than £500,000. The figure was calculated by forensic accountant Alex McLaren using official ­figures supplied by the SCS.

Following the announcement a spokesman for the SCS said their recommendations for closure were based on ­“robust financial cost and benefit ­evaluation”.

Lawyer Angela Craig, a ­leading figure in the campaign to save Haddington, expects the demonstration to be well ­attended.

She said: “We’ll be demonstrating in an effort to show the government the huge strength of feeling that exists against the closure of this court.

“Haddington is meeting all it’s targets, it is economical to run and serves a wide range of cases. Eric McQueen, the chief executive of the Scottish Court Service, has been talking up the creation of Justice Centres –Haddington is already the ­perfect model of what he is trying to achieve. It is locally-based and within easy reach of the social work department, the Procurator Fiscal and the ­Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

“Why they wish to shut it down to save money, when we have shown closure will do the opposite, is beyond me.”

Victims’ charities also spoke out in support of keeping ­Haddington open, with Victim Support spokesman David ­Sinclair warning the closure of local courts could lead to victims, witnesses and their families being forced to use the same public transport as the friends and relatives of defendants when attending cases.

The demonstration will take place outside the Scottish ­Parliament at 11am on June 4.