MSP's 'genuine fears' for local justice following court closures

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Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume expressed his constituent's "genuine fears for how local justice will be dispensed" in the south of Scotland following the closure of courts across the area.

A further three sheriff courts in Mr Hume's South of Scotland constituency - in Duns, Haddington and Peebles - are to close as part of the Scottish Court Service's drive to introduce a "modern structure" along with Annan and Kirkcudbright, which have already closed their doors.

A total of 10 sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts are closing across Scotland.

The Liberal Democrat MSP said the changes have resulted in congestion at those courts which remain open and "the inevitable delays will damage public confidence in local justice, will create a less efficient system and cause stress for victims and witnesses".

Community Safety and Legal Affairs Secretary Roseanna Cunningham angrily rejected Mr Hume's claims.

Ms Cunningham asserted the reforms "will ensure cases are more effectively managed, reducing wasted time and the number of hearings required" and the affected courts were "underused".

She added that the debate seemed "mostly to be about location, location, location" and "the fact is that maintaining old buildings which are unsuitable for the 21st century is too expensive".

The minister then challenged opposition MSPs to "say what other services would be cut instead" adding "while members are long on criticism they're very short on any solutions".

Ms Cunningham assured MSPs court capacity would not be reduced and no redundancies would be made.

A study group, jointly sponsored by the Scottish Court Service and Scottish Borders Council, is considering a 'justice hub' for the area and is due to report their findings in June 2014.

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