Video no replacement for courts

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REPLACING Cumbernauld JP Court with video links would be a sub-standard replacement for Scotland’s justice system, the Scottish Conservatives have warned.

The SNP has announced the closure of a fifth of Scotland’s courts, including Cumbernauld, which could result in an increase in using technology like remote feeds to hear more court cases, the justice committee heard yesterday.

Speaking in a Scottish Parliament debate this week, Scottish Conservative and Central Scotland MSP Margaret Mitchell also emphasised the problems closing 10 sheriff courts will bring, meaning witnesses and victims are inconvenienced and the remaining courts overburdened with work.

Reducing the number of courts could also result in delays to trials and the loss of local knowledge among lawyers and sheriffs.

In addition, Mrs Mitchell also raised concerns during the debate about the adverse effects on the local economy of towns where the closure of courts is being proposed, such as Cumbernauld.

Commenting, Mrs Mitchell said:

“The closure of courts will see the de-skilling of local solicitors and the loss of continuity provided by sheriffs and JPs with knowledge of local communities.

“These concerns cannot be dismissed by the assertion that technology can fill the gap.

“Video conferencing and a webcam is no substitute for courts which maintain visibility of justice for communities.

“In some cases the body language and even physical appearance of witnesses are difficult to assess via a television – and the barrier of a screen can make it difficult to build up a rapport with the witness, not to mention the countless technical issues that could occur.

“Furthermore, as the Federation of Small Businesses and many others pointed out in their responses to the Scottish Court Services’ consultation, courts have a positive economic impact of local areas. Therefore, I consider that the closure of Cumbernauld JP court will be a bitter blow for businesses already struggling in the town centre.

“In reality, the attempt to make savings by closing these courts and diverting criminal and civil business to already overstretched courts comes at the expense of victims and witnesses and without consideration of the effects on the local economy these closures may cause.”