Future of Scottish court structures

Published on Friday, 19 April 2013 10:04
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

Proposals from the Scottish Court Service to change the future structure of Scotland's courts have been accepted by the Scottish Government.

Following careful consideration of the proposed changes set out by the Scottish Court Service on April 9, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has today written to SCS Chief Executive, Eric McQueen, The Lord President, Lord Gill, and the chair of the Justice Committee to confirm that the Scottish Government has accepted the recommendations.

Mr MacAskill, who announced the Scottish Government's decision via a Parliamentary Question, said:

"Having given full and careful consideration of the Scottish Court Service's recommendations and examined the analysis on the potential impact of these proposals, I believe that given the financial constraints we are all working under, these changes are justified and are compatible with our wider justice reforms.

"Unfortunately, the fragmented and outdated court system we inherited – where many smaller courts are not fit for purpose and are under-used – is no longer sustainable. While the Scottish Court Service operates independently of the Scottish Government, it is not immune from the same financial pressures. And against the backdrop of unprecedented cuts to the Scottish budget from the Westminster Government, the SCS is seeking to save £4.5m from its revenue budget and £6.4m from its capital budget in the period 2011- 2012 to 2014-2015.

"By making its proposed court closures and other changes to the handling of court business, SCS estimate they can save £1m a year in running costs and £3m in maintenance costs,  money which can be better spent on improving services and facilities at a smaller number of courts.

"Clearly, I appreciate and understand the concerns voiced by those who wish to retain their local court in their local high street. However, the volume of business carried out in the sheriff courts recommended for closure is around five per cent of the total business, which SCS is confident can be dealt with within a smaller number of better equipped courts. Indeed, the introduction of a new, secure live-link video-conferencing network in six northern courts and four other locations, due to be completed next month, will give criminal justice organisations the opportunity to use new technology for some cases, instead of participants  having to travel to court."

The Justice Secretary has now sent draft Orders to the Scottish Court Service and the Lord President which will enable the necessary legislative changes to be made in the Scottish Parliament to implement the proposed court closures. The Scottish Court Service will be required to consult with relevant key stakeholders on these Orders before deciding whether to formally consent. Once approved, the Orders will be laid in the Scottish Parliament where they will be considered by the Justice Committee.

The six northern courts where video-conferencing technology is being introduced are Aberdeen, Elgin, Inverness, Kirkwall, Lerwick and Stornoway. The other locations include prisons, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services and other criminal justice partners.

Source: Scottish Government

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