East Lothian Council

Council lobbying Parliament about proposed court closure

Published Wednesday 24th April 13

Haddington Sheriff Court

Haddington Sheriff Court is focus of renewed lobbying campaign

 East Lothian Council has started a lobbying campaign to fight the proposed closure of Haddington Sheriff Court following the Scottish Government’s announcement that it was accepting the recommendations of the ‘Shaping Scotland’s Court Services’ report produced by the Scottish Court Service (SCS).

  East Lothian Council Leader, Cllr Willie Innes, said;

“I am extremely disappointed with Kenny MacAskill’s statement last week which aims to pass the death sentence on Haddington Sheriff Court. East Lothian Council has cross-party support rejecting the proposal to close Haddington Sheriff Court and to transfer its court business to Edinburgh. We strongly believe the recommendation is flawed in a number of areas and the strength of local opinion appears to have been ignored.. The Council is now undertaking a series of actions to seek a reversal of this recommendation and for Haddington Sheriff Court to remain as the cornerstone of the local justice system in East Lothian.” 

Cllr Innes sent Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, a letter setting out the Council’s reasons for asking him to think again and retain Haddington Sheriff Court. This letter was also copied to the two constituency MSPs, Iain Gray and Colin Beattie. In addition Derek Mackay MSP, Minister for Local Government and Planning, all of the South of Scotland list MSPs, members of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee and members of the Scottish Parliament subordinate legislation committee also received copies.

 Within his letter Cllr Innes stated that ‘the SCS did not pay appropriate regard to a number of points in their consideration of consultation responses’. In particular he highlighted

  • The volume of local opinion against closure;
  • The shunting of costs onto other public sector bodies; (in particular East Lothian Council)
  • The effect on the local economy; and
  • Demographics

 “The strength of local opinion about Haddington Sheriff Court can be gauged from the number of representations that were received in response to the SCS consultation including more than 150 letters, over 800 postcards, 341 newspaper coupons and almost 1500 petition signatories.

The SCS stated that their figures for indictments, trials etc set out “a broad indication” of the numbers of people who may be affected by their recommendations. I believe this to be a particularly short-sighted view of what a court is for. My own view is that justice is for a whole community, not just the people who pass through the doors of a courtroom. The strength of feeling in East Lothian about our court is indicated by the numbers of representations above.” 

Over the next 25 years, the population of East Lothian is projected to grow by 33%, the highest rate of all local authority areas in Scotland and the proposals suggest that East Lothian would become the only local authority area to lose all of its court facility.

Deputy Leader of East Lothian Council, Cllr Michael Veitch, said:

"It is regrettable in the extreme that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has dismissed the many responses to the court consultation making the case for the retention of the court here in Haddington, and is accepting that it should be closed.

“The closure of the court would be a hammer-blow to East Lothian as a whole and would represent a wholly unacceptable downgrade of the county’s civic amenities. I sincerely hope that the ill thought out proposal to close East Lothian’s Court will be over-turned.” 

Angela Leitch, the Council’s Chief Executive, senior council officials and elected members will be attending a meeting on 7 May called by the Faculty of Procurators in East Lothian to discuss the prospective closure of Haddington Sheriff Court and a number of further actions are planned by East Lothian Council in a bid to reverse the proposal. These include the Chief Executive seeking a meeting with the SCS Chief Executive to discuss alternative proposals to achieve financial savings; outlining the impact of proposed closure on the local economy and consulting further with local legal representatives and groups including the local faculty and current and retired sheriffs.

 

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East Lothian Council, John Muir House Brewery Park Haddington East Lothian EH41 3HA.