Rothesay court campaigners fear the worst

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Campaigners fighting against the closure of Rothesay Sheriff Court say they fear the island’s concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee meets on Tuesday, June 11 to discuss whether to annul parliamentary orders for the closure of ten sheriff courts, including Rothesay, and five justice of the peace courts across the country.

And campaigners battling to save the Rothesay court from the axe are growing increasingly fearful that the committee will approve the orders - in spite of near-universal public opposition.

Solicitor Elaine Campbell, from Rothesay firm Wm. Skelton & Co., who led a Bute delegation which met with justice secretary Kenny MacAskill in Edinburgh on May 23, said: “I think it’s almost certain that the committee will rubber-stamp the recommendation, unless one of the SNP members of the committee votes against it.

“I’ve been told by Labour’s justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald that the committee only needs one SNP MSP to join the opposition to the orders [to put it to a parliamentary vote], but it doesn’t look like any of them will.”
Miss Campbell also said the appearances by Mr MacAskill and Lord Gill, the Lord President of the Court of Session, before the parliament’s justice committee last week left her fearing the worst.
“They both said exactly the same thing, talking about the need for a 21st-century courts service and about the fact that there were likely to be more changes in future,” Miss Campbell continued.

“I can see them moving towards bigger and bigger hyper-courts, and leaving us with ‘remote justice’.

Another member of the Bute delegation who met Mr MacAskill, retired police superintendent and Rothesay resident Dan Edgar said he, too, had been left disheartened after he wrote to Mr MacAskill and received a civil servant’s reply which he described as “just nonsense”.

“I suspect it’s a done deal,” Mr Edgar told The Buteman. “These guys are not at the sharp end of the justice system.”

We asked the SNP’s John Finnie, a regional MSP for the Highlands and Islands (including Bute) and a member of Holyrood’s justice committee, to comment on the recommendations and their impact on Rothesay.

“I don’t think anyone would wish to be in the position of closing any local facilities,” Mr Finnie replied.

“The UK Government has posed draconian cuts on the Scottish Government and, regardless of who formed the Government, significant cuts would be required across the public sector in Scotland. 

“Scottish Court Service’s share of those cuts is £4million pounds and has resulted in proposals to close a number of courts in the Highlands and Islands.

“I provided a response to the court closure consultation and have worked, behind the scenes, initially to secure ‘remote videoing facilities’, in conjunction with public sector partners, for vulnerable witnesses at Dingwall which service the large landward area of Wester Ross. 

“I am delighted that that localised arrangement has been extended to all locations where courts have been identified for closure, including Rothesay, meaning that the understandable concerns that vulnerable witnesses would use the same ferry as the accused have been addressed.”