Sheriff claims court ‘bursting at the seams’

Sheriff Liddle spoke out at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Picture: Bill Henry
Sheriff Liddle spoke out at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Picture: Bill Henry
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A SHERIFF has claimed his court is in “crisis” as a result of “gross overloading” with cases from other districts.

Sheriff Gordon Liddle launched an unprecedented public attack from the bench after being told cases were being sent to his already “clogged up” court.

It comes as ten Sheriff Courts – including Haddington – and seven Justice of the Peace courts have been closed in a bid to save £3 million up front, then around £1m a year.

The long-serving sheriff, who is also the secretary of The Sheriffs’ Association, said his court in Edinburgh was “bursting at the seams as it is”.

And when a prosecution lawyer tried to suggest the matter be discussed in private, the judge hit back: “The public have a right to know.”

Sheriff Liddle spoke out after he was presented with at least three criminal cases from West Lothian which would normally be heard in Livingston Sheriff Court.

The Scottish Government target between charges being issued and a public trial is six months. Solicitor Advocate John Scott QC said lawyers were dealing with cases where trials had been set for nine months’ time.

“Courts throughout the country are under considerable pressure with a reduced number of courts,” he said. “There was evidence given to the justice committee to say a smaller number of courts would be able to cope with closures.

“We are seeing some evidence of problems even before court closures are implemented.”

If local courts are not able to accommodate a sheriff and jury case within these timescales then the Crown will take it up in the nearest available court within the Sheriffdom.

The Scottish Government claims that 95 per cent of court business has been unaffected by the changes to court structures and that the Scottish Court Service “has confirmed that they have capacity within courts to deal with current and anticipated cases”.

But the sheriff’s claims have sparked fears that the Scottish courts system is on the verge of collapse.

Margaret Mitchell MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman, said: “When a respected sheriff is making such scathing remarks about the state of our justice system they must not be ignored. These comments confirm what we already know – courts across Scotland are at breaking point.”

A spokeswoman from the Scottish Courts Service, the body which administers the courts, said: “The Scottish Court Service provides sufficient time for sheriff and jury business.

“During the past two years at Edinburgh Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Court, business programming has been adjusted to allow for additional court time, while from early 2015, a further permanent jury and sheriff court will be put in place.

Sheriff Liddle, who had an unusual first career as drummer in the 1970s rock band Bilbo Baggins, said via his clerk that he would consider commenting only if contacted by letter.