MSP's plea to court chief over closure threat
Iain Gray has backed the Courier's 'Save our Court' campaign. A submission form is available in this week's paper.
THE county's MSP has taken the fight to save Haddington Sheriff Court to one of the Scottish Court Service's (SCS) top executives.
Iain Gray met Eric McQueen - executive director of field services at the SCS - to put forward his case for keeping the court open.
Haddington is one of 15 sheriff courts in Scotland earmarked for closure as part of proposed court restructuring, in which all East Lothian business would transfer to Edinburgh.
Mr Gray had hoped to meet with the Lord President - chair of the SCS board - but the MSP said: "I thought that was an unlikely suggestion, and sure enough, the Lord President did not feel it was appropriate to meet, but he did arrange a meeting with Mr McQueen.
"To his credit, Mr McQueen was very open about what is going on. He admitted that recent meetings with stakeholders such as councils, victims'
organisations and social workers had seen considerable opposition to the idea of closing courts such as Haddington.
"He promised to take these views into consideration when proposals are developed over the summer. Mr McQueen also promised that there would be an open public consultation on proposals starting in the autumn."
Mr Gray added: "Mr McQueen admitted that moving East Lothian cases to Edinburgh would not save on court staff, who would also have to move. The savings would only be about the court building.
"I made clear that the local economy would pay the price of losing our local court, while access to justice would be compromised for county citizens.
"My worry is that proposals are being developed and although they are not finalised, at every stage they still include the closure of our court.
"We must remain vigilant and make the arguments at every opportunity or we will find that we are presented with a fait accompli before consultation with the community even starts."
Six dialogue events were held throughout May and June across Scotland, involving representatives of the judiciary, court staff, police, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Scottish Prison Service.
A three-month public consultation will be launched in autumn, before final decisions are made and statutory orders put in front of the Scottish Parliament for approval - expected to take place around January next year.
Mr McQueen said: "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."