A report published today by Audit Scotland has confirmed pressures are mounting on Scotland’s sheriff court system.
Findings of the report, Efficiency of prosecuting criminal cases through the sheriff court system, include:
– Budget cuts of 14% for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and 28% for the Scottish Court Service, compared to 7% cuts for central government
– An increase in the number of sheriff court cases waiting longer than 26 weeks for completion
– More than £10 million wasted repeating stages in the justice process unnecessarily.
The figures contained in the report cover the period 2010/11 to 2014/15, and while it does not explicitly consider the impact of the recent court closures, including Haddington, there are clear lessons to be drawn from its findings.
For example, the report highlights the differences in the time cases take in different areas, stating the average time taken for a summary case to reach a verdict in 2014/15 was 155 days or 22 weeks.
Haddington Sheriff Court was well below that average in the same period, while Edinburgh Sheriff Court was one of 11 across Scotland above the average. These figures suggest that those in East Lothian involved with summary cases will now face a longer wait than when cases were dealt with in Haddington
Iain Gray MSP said
“This report provides further evidence of just how ill-advised was the SNP Scottish Government’s decision to close Haddington and other sheriff courts across Scotland.
“It shows that even before the closure of seven of Scotland’s courts, sheriff courts were already facing huge pressures, resulting in longer waits for cases to be completed and delays for court users.
“It also demonstrates once again that far from being evidence-based policy, the decision to close our court in Haddington was made in spite of all the evidence showing it was a terrible idea.
“In East Lothian SNP Ministers axed a local justice system which served our County well for hundreds of years and replaced it with a remote, centralised and less efficient one in Edinburgh. This has resulted in longer journeys and more delays for my constituents, as well as having a detrimental impact on local businesses in the town
“The findings of this report suggest that the situation will, in all likelihood, get worse. The new more centralised court system faces further budget cuts and constraints on capacity which will almost certainly mean more delays in accessing justice.
“Unfortunately, Haddington and local people accessing the justice system will feel the impact of this wrong-headed decision for many years to come.”