Criminals could shun court date

criminals are less likely to turn up to face justice if court closures in Lanarkshire go ahead, a council chief has warned.

This would increase pressure on the police who would have to track down more fugitives.

The warning comes as the Scottish Courts Service considers proposals to close five justice of the peace courts, including Motherwell.

North Lanarkshire Council is opposing the plans which also include shutting another two courts in its area, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld.

The SCS says the courts - which deal with crimes and offences at the lower end of the scale - should be closed and business transferred to the sheriff courts at Hamilton and Airdrie.

The Motherwell proposal has already been criticised by local solicitors who warn that Hamilton won’t cope with the increased workload.

CONCERN

Now the council has voiced its concern in a response to the SCS consultation on the issue.

John O’Hagan, executive director of corporate services, said: “These proposals would cause a serious reduction in the availability of justice to many in North Lanarkshire, which flies in the face of the principles on which the summary justice system was founded.

“One of those principles was to dispense justice within local communities and that will be lost both for those in the justice system and those who have dealings with it.

“Travel times to court will be increased, in some cases significantly.

“This could mean that accused persons will fail to attend court, leading to more warrants being issued and placing a greater burden on the police.

“The council recognises that the Scottish Court Service will have to find savings. But we do not think that cost savings should take priority over access to justice.”

The SCS document says the Motherwell court falls short of modern standards. It points out that there is no segregation for court users with witnesses, the accused and general public forced to share the same corridor.

FACILITIES

It states: “We are incurring significant costs in keeping these JP courts going with low volumes of work in buildings that offer poor facilities and a less than safe environment for court users.

“The proximity of sheriff courts reinforces the fact that there is a duplication of provision with all the inefficiences associated with such an arrangement.”

However, the council pointed out that the number of cases dealt with in Motherwell rose from 2,191 in 2010/11 to 2,548 the following year and questioned why the court should be closed if it is getting busier.

CHARGES

The council added that it will lose more than £200,000 a year if the three courts close as the SCS pays rent and service charges for the use of council buildings.

It also warned that local businesses will lose trade as a result of court users switching to Hamilton.