MSP courts controversy on eve of closure

Cupar Sheriff Court
Cupar Sheriff Court

A visit to Cupar Sheriff Court due to be made today (Friday) by MSP Rod Campbell has been branded ‘a political stunt’ by a furious local lawyer.

Mr Campbell, SNP MSP for north east Fife, voted to close the court last year despite previously appealing for its retention.

He said that as a member of the Scottish Government’s Justice Committee it would have been ‘an abuse of his power’ to favour Cupar.

Today he is due to embark on a ‘fact finding’ tour of the building, which closes its doors on May 30, with all business being transferred to Dundee.

He is to check out the video conferencing facilities that will be used by vulnerable witnesses.

But Cupar solicitor Douglas Williams, who is Dean of the local Faculty, described the visit as ‘an absolute joke.’

“In my view it’s just a political stunt,” he said.

“It’s generally accepted that Dundee Sheriff Court will not cope and closing Cupar was totally ill-conceived.

“The Justice Scretary Kenny MacAskill was seen just last weekend presenting more than £2 million seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act to the SRU - that money should have been invested in Cupar Sheriff Court .

“Mr Campbell can blame Westminster for the closure of Leuchars but the court happened on his watch and what’s more, he voted for it.”

While the retention of the video conferencing facilities for vulnerable witnesses in Cupar have been welcomed by some, Mr Williams also cast doubt on their effectiveness.

“Video links are fine for evidence of a medical or technical nature,” he said.

“But they don’t convey demeanour or body language and pictures are usually appalling, which leads to difficulties in assessing evidence.”

In response, Mr Campbell said: “As the constituency MSP, I am visiting Cupar Sheriff Court to discuss the facilities in the court building and receive an update on preparations being undertaken in connection with the transfer of court business.

“I am pleased that discussions between the SCS and Fife Council seem to be advancing in terms of a transfer back of the Court facility with appropriate leaseback of part of that facility. I would hope to have a clearer idea of matters following my visit.

“During my visit, I will also be looking at facilities such as video conferencing, which is increasingly playing an important role in the Scottish justice system.”

Fife Council confirmed the proposed transfer is to be considered at the executive committee shortly, but at present, there are no firm plans for an alternative use of the court.