Court closures already having “a detrimental effect” on local justice, claims MSP

Haddington Sheriff Court

Haddington Sheriff Court

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New evidence has emerged to show that the Scottish Government’s court closures are already having “a detrimental effect” on local justice, Iain Gray MSP has claimed.

Figures revealed in a recent parliamentary answer at Holyrood show that in Sheriff Courts the number of cases resolved in 26 weeks has fallen from 72 per cent in September last year to 68 per cent for the most recent figures in April 2014.

Around 74 per cent of cases in Justice of the Peace Courts were concluded within 26 weeks in September 2013, but that fell to just 64 per cent by April this year.

Meanwhile, other statistics reveal that the average time taken for cases to be resolved is also rising. In September last year it took an average of 148 days for a summary criminal case to go through a JP court, but by April it was 177 days.

For Sheriff Court cases, the average time taken to conclude in September 2013 was 139, compared to 147 days in April.

The increases have come following the first phase of the court closures which took place at the end of last year. Haddington’s Sheriff and JP courts are scheduled to close in January next year.

Mr Gray, who led the fight against plans to close Haddington’s courts, believes that this latest evidence reinforces the case that he and others have made against the closures.

Chief Executive of the Scottish Courts Service Eric McQueen said: “The drop in the number of cases being settled within 26 weeks is not due to the closure of courts. As we have been very clear, the court closures will result in a re-distribution of only 5% of the overall business to courts with sufficient capacity and no reduction in judicial or court staff.

“Whilst overall levels of crimes, including violent crime, have fallen in recent years, the reporting and detection of some crimes has increased over the past year, in particular sexual crimes and crimes associated with domestic abuse, as well as road traffic offences. These increases reflect more proactive policing and prosecution, better evidence gathering and greater confidence amongst victims in reporting certain crimes, including historic crimes.

“To tackle these increases, targeted measures have been agreed across justice organisations, with additional judicial, court and COPFS staff being deployed. These measures will significantly increase the number of cases settled within 26 weeks and clearly demonstrate that court capacity is available to deal with the increased levels of business.”

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