Sheriff clerk ends 40 years of service

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John O’Donnell, sheriff clerk at Haddington, has retired after 40 years service to the justice system.

John was born and educated in Falkirk and joined the Scottish Court Service straight from school in 1973 as an administrative officer.

He moved to Duns on promotion in 1979 and served at other sheriff courts in the central belt, including Dunfermline and Airdrie before being appointed to Haddington in 1993.

Ten years later he moved to the High Court in Edinburgh and in 2007 to Jedburgh before returning to Haddington in 2012.

Mr O’Donnell has seen big changes over his 40-year career.

“It’s all computerised now,” he said. “And we just have to deal with constant change in legislation.”

His retirement on Friday last week coincided with the closure of Haddington Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Courts despite a determined campaign to save them.

The court has been at the heart of justice in the county for 500 years, but cases are being transferred to Edinburgh from this week.

Campaigners still hope there is an opportunity for Haddington to become a Summary Sheriff Court, a new type of court which would see cases continue to be dealt with locally although jury trials would have to be held elsewhere.

Mr O’Donnell’s decision to hang up his gown after 40 years of service was announced at a reception to mark the court closure.

Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen said Mr O’Donnell had been Sheriff Clerk at Haddington for two distinct periods and also paid tribute to the justices of the peace, retired and operational, who gave their time freely.

She said: “Haddington has a very proud tradition of justice delivered from the JP bench with patience and courtesy which is a credit to our system of summary criminal justice.”

Mr O’Donnell, 60, plans to continue living in East Linton in his retirement. He and his wife have two daughters, one at university and the other in fourth year at Dunbar Grammar School.

He is looking forward to having more time to himself. “I’ve got myself a camera and we also have a new dog, so I’ll be doing a lot of walking.”

Haddington Sheriff Court was earmarked for permanent closure in January last year as part of a £3 million money-saving ­exercise implemented by the Scottish Court Service.

The closure plan sparked strong local opposition. East Lothian Labour MP Iain Gray said people were united in wanting to keep the court open.

There were over 150 substantial objections to the closure and thousands of signed postcards - by far the greatest level of support for any of the courts listed for closure.

But it seems their arguments have fallen on deaf ears.