Pressing ahead with plans to move sheriff court jury trials from Dumfries and Stranraer Sheriff Courts to Ayr is ‘completely irresponsible’ according to South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth.
The reason behind the move has been stated as the £40,000 cost to create covid-safe environments in the two sheriff courts for juries, however, Colin Smyth agrees with local solicitors, who have raised concerns about the numbers of people required to travel to Ayr in the current lockdown, for days at a time, to take part in trials.
However, it has now been reported that criminal trials scheduled to take place this month at Dumfries Sheriff Court have been adjourned until the summer because of a shortage of court personnel.
The move to Ayr will result in there being insufficient staff left at Dumfries to handle criminal business there during this period – resulting in further stress being placed on victims and witnesses.
Summary cases – such as drink-driving, assaults and domestic abuse – make up the vast majority of the vast majority of the criminal business at Dumfries.
Colin Smyth said: “Pressing ahead with these flawed and potentially dangerous plans to move sheriff court jury trials from Dumfries and Stranraer to Ayr is completely irresponsible. I am shocked that despite representations from local solicitors, politicians and the media, the Justice Secretary and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Services are refusing to listen to reason.
“Dozens of people – legal teams, those who are accused and other court officials – being forced to travel up and down to Ayr, for a number of consecutive days, is unthinkable in the current climate. We would have the crazy situation of a lawyer travelling from Dumfries and Galloway to Ayr then questioning by video link a witness who could well be in the court room in Dumfries or Stranraer. That is simply madness.
“Many people would need to use public transport to get between Dumfries and Galloway and Ayr which is a real challenge and the costs involved in transporting everyone needed to appear in court would be huge.
“We have been repeatedly told by the Scottish Government that people shouldn’t be travelling right now and even though this would be an essential reason for travel, it sounds very irresponsible to make these changes and risk exposing dozens of people to Covid-19, rather than spending a sum of money to make the sheriff courts in Dumfries and Stranraer safe.
“Continuing with this plan also means more cases are being delayed which is very worrying. The Scottish Government needs to rethink this urgently, put up the small amount of money needed to allow these trials to take place fully in Dumfries and Galloway when it is safe to do so, using online technology where possible”