Haddington Sheriff Court closes after 500 years

Sheriff Peter Braid and Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen mark the court's closure. Picture: Gordon Fraser
Sheriff Peter Braid and Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen mark the court's closure. Picture: Gordon Fraser
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A HISTORIC court that has dispensed justice in East Lothian for more than 500 years has closed its doors for the final time – despite a passionate campaign to keep it alive.

Haddington Sheriff Court has been operating in the country since medieval times but from next week all business will be transferred to Edinburgh.

The current court building – a landmark in Haddington – dates back to the 19th century and could be bought by East Lothian Council, with sections converted for public use.

It is one of ten sheriff courts and seven Justice of the Peace courts across Scotland which have been wound up by the Scottish Government to save £3 million up front, and then around £1m a year.

Ministers claim that 95 per cent of court business has been unaffected by the changes and that the Scottish Court Service has “capacity within courts to deal with current and anticipated cases”.

Campaigners are sceptical, however, that Edinburgh Sheriff Court will be able to cope with the additional workload. Last year, Haddington Sheriff Court dealt with more than 3000 summary criminal cases alone.

One of the key campaigners against closure – county solicitor Angela Craig – said the figure was “just a drop in the ocean” once civil, family and housing matters were included in the list of business.

She told the Evening News: “I was thinking today when I walked into the court, ‘how many times have I walked in here over the last 26 years?’. It’s very sad to see such an important public service closing its doors.”

Mrs Craig joined former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray MSP and East Lothian Council leader Councillor Willie Innes at a meeting in St Mary’s Parish Church last night, entitled Haddington Sheriff Court... What next? And she plans to lobby to maintain a justice service in the building by hosting a summary sheriff court with a summary sheriff whose salary would be around 20 per cent lower than a normal sheriff.

Jury trials would also be held elsewhere.

“Here’s an opportunity to have a justice centre at a lesser cost,” she said. “For people on low incomes, trying to find the money to get from rural areas to Edinburgh is very difficult, whereas attending at a local court is much more manageable.”

A ceremony was held last Friday to mark the court’s finale featuring speeches from Sheriff Peter Braid, Haddington’s last resident sheriff.

He said: “I sincerely believe the local bar is second to none. It’s been an honour and privilege the last three and a half years as the last sheriff of Haddington.”

He said he was looking forward to working at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for years to come.