I have raised in Parliament my concerns to the Justice Secretary after the Scottish Court Service outlined moves to end jury trials at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court over the next 10 years. This will take place without Parliamentary approval, with all jury trials that would have been heard at Kirkcaldy moving to Dunfermline.
The proposal also highlights plans to close Cupar Sheriff Court due to its proximity to Dundee Sheriff Court. This is subject to Parliamentary approval and if approved this change will take place in May 2014.
The move of jury trials to Dunfermline is despite the Kirkcaldy court being the busier of the two courts and the consultation recognising the ‘strength of comments made to us that Kirkcaldy would be more appropriate location for a Sheriff and jury centre serving East Fife.”
I highlighted these changes and my concerns in a question to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill during Topical Questions. I asked the Cabinet Secretary what meetings he had with the Scottish Court Service on these proposals and if he shares concerns that this change will have a negative impact on witnesses and victims.
In his reply the Cabinet Secretary claimed there should be ‘greater trust and faith’ given to the Scottish Court Service and the Lord President.
However, statistics released to me has shown that in the past year almost three times as many jury trials took place in Kirkcaldy compared to Dunfermline, with the court also sitting for almost twice as many days and had almost double the indictments.
If these statistics remain consistent this would mean an increase in jury trials at Dunfermline Sheriff Court by 283%, with an increase in the number of days it sits by 172%. This has led to real fears of delays as a result of the changes proposed.
The decision to close Cupar Sheriff Court is despite concerns raised by increased travel distance and cost for court users.
The Scottish Court Service admitted that the closure of Cupar Sheriff Court “will result in additional travel distance, time and cost to some court users in travelling to Dundee…we recognise that for some travel may be more difficult because of limited public transport options.”
Recently it has also been announced that the Scottish Government have taken the decision to end Fife’s Drugs Court initiative at the close of the financial year 2013/14. The court had been running as a pilot project, in partnership with Fife Council, NHS Fife, Fife Police and the Scottish Court Service, since 2002.
I visited both Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline Sheriff Courts during the Consultation period before submitting my own response outlining why both courts should remain accessible to jury trials and why Cupar Sheriff Court should remain open.
I have also continually raised my concerns in the Scottish Parliament that local and rural courts may be closed due to Scottish Government cuts and I have met with local groups including local Kirkcaldy solicitors to hear their concerns over the potential changes to courts in the Kingdom.
The people of Fife deserve justice to be delivered locally and in a meaningful way. There are real concerns that moving jury trials out of Kirkcaldy and closing Cupar Sheriff Court will lead to an increase in trials delayed.
Going to court can be an extremely emotional time and lives can essentially be on hold until they see an end to the case. The Scottish Government should be making the process easier, not harder, for all involved but by stopping jury trials in Kirkcaldy and closing Cupar they will be penalising the victims and the innocent.
The views of solicitors and the general public have been ignored as these flawed proposals regarding Kirkcaldy are set to be pushed through.
It is not about blindly trusting the SCS and Lord President but about ensuring the best justice system is in place and there will be no unintended consequences that will adversely affect the Kingdom.
The decision by the Scottish Court Service, coupled with the extremely disappointing decision by the Scottish Government to stop funding the Drugs Court may lead to significant gaps in the provision of dealing with justice issues across the Kingdom.
These decisions will only add further strain to the local justice system. Stopping jury trials in Kirkcaldy will put increased pressures on the justice services in Fife and it will be the victims who lose out. I will continue to raise this matter in the Scottish Parliament.