Battle to save Cupar Sheriff Court heats up

Cupar Sheriff Court.
Cupar Sheriff Court.

A CAMPAIGN to help save Cupar Sheriff Court from closure is being stepped up as a public consultation about its future gets under way.

The St Catherine Street building is one of 14 throughout Scotland that could face the axe under a shake-up of court services, prompting dismay among legal professionals.

Now MP Sir Menzies Campbell has added his weight to the debate by appealing to local people to take part in the three-month consultation process, which begins today (Friday).

He fears that the court’s closure would be a ‘serious disadvantage’ to north east Fife.

“The inconvenience to litigants, lawyers, and the police would be considerable,” said Sir Menzies this week.

“But the public, for example if summoned for jury service, would be the worst affected. Centralisation is always superficially attractive, but, as in this case, often causes inconvenience and unforeseen expense.

“I hope that everyone with an interest will take the opportunity of the consultation process to make their opinions known.”

The fate of Cupar’s sheriff court could be decided as early as January, and if it’s decided to close it, it’s likely that its business would be transferred to Dundee, which already deals with as many as 80 criminal cases a day.

Earlier this year, a series of six ‘dialogue events’ was held by the Scottish Court Service for key professionals like sheriffs, lawyers and police officers, the vast majority of whom felt that justice should be delivered locally.

Increased travel distance and costs emerged as one of the main concerns, especially if court users of limited means were also in a vulnerable state. It was feared that they may be denied access to justice as public transport may be too costly or impractical.

Concerns have also been expressed that the extra travelling could leave local communities less inclined to participate in the justice process, affecting the pool of citizens available to serve on juries and losing the local knowledge that is considered important in the justice process.

The findings from the dialogue events were considered by some of Scotland’s most senior law figures during August and the Scottish Court Service Board has laid out the resulting proposals in the public consultation paper.

It’s anticipated that the board will reach a decision by January 2013 - but if they decide to close the court, the necessary order would have to be made by Scottish Ministers.

For more information about the public consultation, visit www.scotcourts.gov.uk