Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes MSP has called for the planned closure of local courts in January 2015 to be reviewed after she revealed statistics showing the last round of court closures resulted in people receiving a worse service.
In light of this, Ms McInnes has renewed her criticism of the government-backed local court closure programme. With the final round of closures due to take place next month, Scottish Liberal Democrats have also called on the Scottish Government to review the impact of the closures so far.
Analysis of figures obtained by Ms McInnes through parliamentary questions shows the length of time taken to hear cases is increasing at courts which took on additional business following the closure of courts in Arbroath, Cupar and Stonehaven in May 2014.
For example, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ research revealed:
- Following the closure of Cupar Sheriff Court, the percentage of summary criminal cases completed within the six month target at Dundee Sheriff Court was on average 77% between June and September 2014. This compares to 84% during the same period in 2013.
- The average time taken to process a summary criminal case at Aberdeen Sheriff Court was on average 149 days between June and September 2014, up from 117 during the same period in 2013. This followed the closure of Stonehaven Sheriff Court where cases were previously completed in 109 days.
- The average time taken to process a summary criminal case at Forfar Sheriff Court was on average 121 days between June and September 2014, up from 110 during the same period last year. Cases at Arbroath Sheriff Court, from which business was transferred, were previously completed in 112 days.
Ms McInnes said:
“The evidence Scottish Liberal Democrats have obtained shows that communities are receiving a poorer service as a direct result of the local court closure programme backed by the SNP government.
“Solicitors, victims, witnesses, jurors and police officers are all having to travel further to get to court. And these statistics show that the length of time it is taking to deal with their cases is rising and the 26-week target is missed more often.
“In my own North East region, the length of time it is taking to hear cases at Aberdeen Sheriff Court has increased by more than 25 per cent following the closure of the neighbouring court in Stonehaven.
“Recent court reform legislation means these courts will soon deal with more civil work, but these statistics suggest they are already under intense pressure with many running close to capacity. The Justice Committee also received evidence that this is being accompanied by cuts to staff budgets, rising numbers of court cases, and an increase in the number of serious and complex cases.
“With more courts set to be abolished in January, these new statistics must cause the Scottish Government and Court Service to review the impact of the closures so far.”