January verdict on future of court

Cupar Sheriff Court.
Cupar Sheriff Court.

THE fate of Cupar’s sheriff court - which is under threat of closure - could be decided as early as the beginning of next year.

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 local legal professionals.

Following a series of six ‘dialogue events’ that has just finished, Scotland’s most senior law figures are due to consider the findings in August before the Scottish Court Service Board puts forward proposals for public consultation in the autumn.

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 be made by Scottish Ministers.

Last month, Councillor Karen Marjoram of Cupar urged people in north east Fife to help save Cupar Sheriff Court by taking part in the public consultation.

She had attended a dialogue event along with key professionals like sheriffs, lawyers and police officers, most of whom shared her view that justice should be delivered locally.

Feedback from the dialogue events has just been published by the Scottish Court Service and shows that increased travel distance and costs would be the biggest problem should Cupar’s court business be transferred to Dundee.

Delegates felt that the accused, victims, witnesses, jurors and legal professionals would all be affected, along with police, social workers and prison escort services.

However, the most serious concern was about court users of limited means who may also be in a vulnerable state.

It was feared that public transport may be too costly or impractical, denying them access to justice.

In addition, there was the potential for intimidation or other criminal activity should people involved in the same proceedings have to travel together.

Eric McQueen, executive director of field services with the Scottish Court Service, said: “These dialogue events have proved very helpful in our work on shaping Scotland’s future court structures.

“The Scottish Court Service has made a considerable effort to involve a range of stakeholders, justice organisations and professional users of court services to help us understand the issues and concerns and to inform us of opportunities and ideas before we draw up proposals for the Scottish Court Service Board to consider.

“If these proposals are acceptable to the board then a three-month consultation will begin in the autumn.”