THE FUTURE of Forfar Sheriff Court looks to be secure.
A consultation into the Scottish Court Service proposes that Forfar is retained, while the Sheriff Court in Arbroath is closed. This would see all activity moving to Forfar.
The news will be welcomed by local solicitors who feared that the closure of Forfar Sheriff Court would be detrimental to the justice system in Angus.
The three-month consultation, now under way, centres on court services in the High Court, sheriff courts and justice of the peace courts and will result in the most significant changes in over a century.
Angus MP Mike Weir reacted cautiously to the news, commenting: “The original proposal would have seen much of the business from Arbroath transferred to Dundee and Forfar Sheriff Court closed completely. That would have left Angus with little or no legal services. It is absolutely vital that such services are retained within Angus”
“Whilst the revised proposal does seem to accept the need to retain a full range of services within the county, the proposed closure of Arbroath Sheriff Court could have a significant impact on the town and it is important that we have a clear idea of how the town and business would be affected.
“The issue of access to services goes further than the town itself, since the court currently also serves Montrose, Carnoustie and Monifieth, raising serious issues of access to the courts.”
“I would urge everyone to fully consider the impact of the proposals and to make their views known during the consultation process.”
The consultation document states: “Arbroath and Forfar are close to each other, and also to Dundee. While there is capacity in Dundee to accommodate the sheriff and jury business of these courts, it would not be possible to accommodate all the business.
“Furthermore, to close both Arbroath and Forfar would run counter to our desire to continue to provide for the delivery of summary justice at a more local level.
“The courthouses at Arbroath and Forfar are quite different in character. Arbroath occupies the former Town House and a former bank which have been converted into a two court complex.
“The courthouse forms one of the buildings in the range along the High Street. The area to the sides and rear of the building have been pedestrianised, leaving vehicular access only at the front. Custodies are delivered across the public footpath at the front of the building - there is no space for expansion.
“In contrast, the courthouse at Forfar is the former County Buildings, an imposing building on the north west of town.
“The building is surrounded by extensive grounds offering potential for expansion should an increase of court capacity in the north east be required.
“Overall, the facilities for court uses are better at Forfar.
“We recognise that Forfar is less well served by public transport, and is further from one of the main population centres in the area than Arbroath.
“Deciding on the most appropriate provision for the north east of the sheriffdom is inevitably going to be a compromise.
“On balance we feel that Forfar offers the better opportunity to provide quality court services and increasingly integrate these with other supporting agencies, and further the scope for future physical development of our accommodation. Accordingly we propose that Arbroath Sheriff Court should close and the business be transferred to Forfar.
“As Forfar is not proposed as a sheriff and jury centre in the longer term, we would anticipate that while sheriff and jury business could initially be heard at Forfar, over time this would increasingly be heard at Dundee.
“We are satisfied that there is sufficient capacity both for this interim arrangement and the longer term proposal.”
Graeme Dey, Angus MSP, said: “Ideally I would want to see Arbroath retained.
“The existence of the court in the town clearly brings economic benefit, and jobs could potentially be under threat because of these proposals.
“I am entirely aware, however, of the feelings many High Street shopkeepers and members of the public have in relation to the impact of court users gathering outside the building. It is a fact that older people in particular feel intimidated at times.
“From a general Angus perspective, at first glance the proposals contained in the consultation document are an improvement on what was first mooted, as the initial indications were that Forfar might be closed and Arbroath would operate on a much diminished basis.
“Mike Weir MP and I have already met with the legal fraternity and now there are some concrete proposals to be looked at we will be meeting again late next week.
“We also need to consider how it will affect the delivery of justice in the town and the surrounding areas.”
You can respond by logging on to: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/consultations/index.asp