The end of an era in Cupar

Sheriff Charles MacNair.
Sheriff Charles MacNair.

The closure of Cupar Sheriff Court today (Friday) brings to an end an association with the town stretching back more than 800 years.

The court has existed in some form or another since 1213 and moved to its home in St Catherine Street in 1837.

Its records, written in 1515, are the earliest to be held by the National Archives of Scotland.

But its 800th anniversary celebrations last year were soured by the news that Cupar’s proud tradition as a seat of justice was under threat.

And in April, the worst fears were confirmed when the Scottish Courts Service announced it was recommending the court’s closure, along with 10 others, despite overwhelming opposition.

Furious protesters branded the three-month consultation carried out by SCS as a’sham’ and a ‘box-ticking exercise’.

It then fell to the Scottish Government’s justice committee to rubber-stamp the proposal – but campaigners continued to hold out hope, launching a last-gasp bid to persuade ministers to overturn the SCS plans.

They were buoyed when Roderick Campbell, MSP for north east Fife, pledged to meet Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to urge him to reconsider the decision.

But when it came to the crunch, Mr Campbell used his vote as a member of the Justice Committee to support the closure, prompting accusations that he had put his party before the people of Cupar.

Mr Campbell said at the time he was still concerned about the economic impact on Cupar but it would be ‘minimal and short-term.’

He defended his stance by say that, as a member of the committee, his obligation was to consider the statutory instrument as a whole, not solely in relation to Cupar.

Eric McQueen, chief executive of the Scottish Courts Service, described the restructuring exercise – which also involves the closure of 10 other Sheriff Courts – as ‘visionary’.

“The court restructure ...supports legislative reform, improves services and facilities for court users, including victims and witnesses, and is affordable in the long term,” he said.

“Our vision is to have court structures in place that are cost-effective, proportionate, accessible and efficient.”

Now staff in Cupar will be relocated to other areas, including Sheriff Charles Macnair, who has presided over the court since 2009.

He succeeded Sheriff George Evans, who sat on the bench for 12 years, in turn succeeding the late Sheriff John McInnes. In an area as diverse as north east Fife, they have dealt with a huge variety of cases, ranging from negligent farmers to peace campaigners and even GM crop protesters dressed as giant bees.