THE SCOTTISH Courts Service (SCS) has announced that Arbroath Sheriff Court is one of 11 Sheriff Courts that it is intending to close.
This is the court that handles criminal cases from Montrose, and also the town’s civil court matters.
The SCS was originally thought to be planning to close the Sheriff Court in Forfar, but only a few weeks before the announcement was due, it became clear that it was the Arbroath Court that had the axe poised more menacingly over it.
The Court service is attempting to save a considerable sum of money from its annual budget, and it became clear that two Sheriff Courts only half-an-hour’s drive apart rendered one of them vulnerable.
Mike Weir MP, himself by profession a lawyer, has called upon everyone with an interest in the future of legal services in Angus to carefully consider and respond to the proposals.
He said: “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 ...
“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.”
A three-month consultation period is now under way, with those who believe retention of the Arbroath Court is the more sensible way forward, having only a limited time to convince the SCS.
Steve Middleton, the Brechin solicitor who is Dean of the Faculty in Angus, is on record as saying that both courts should be retained.
Cupar and Stonehaven Sheriff Courts are also listed for closure.
Bad for Montrose
The Review believes that closure of Arbroath Sheriff Court in favour of Forfar would not only be damaging to Montrose, but highly illogical.
Arbroath Sheriff Court is far busier than Forfar. What organisation, seeking to cut costs, would close its busiest branch?
There is a major issue with accessibility to Forfar, both for accused persons and those with business in the civil court. A very large percentage of people appearing at the criminal court do not own or drive motor cars. Arbroath is served by a direct bus service to each Angus Burgh, including at least hourly service to and from Montrose.
There is no direct bus from Montrose to Forfar, and many accused persons or litigants would be faced with finding a sympathetic driver, or travelling by two buses, via either Arbroath or Brechin.
We believe that the number of ‘no shows’ at the criminal court would impose significant extra costs, with many additional arrest warrants issued, and the consequent extra work having to be undertaken by both Police and prison transport agencies, not to mention duplication of court time.
Both the Forfar and Arbroath buildings are owned by SCS, the Arbroath one having been bought from Angus Council some years ago. Two adjoining shops have been purchased in recent years, and a good sum of money spent in integrating them into the main court building.
The executive director of SCS, Eric McQueen, has spoken about buildings built in Victorian times being difficult to adapt for modern needs. The writer of this article spent more than six years as a sitting Justice of the Peace, principally at Arbroath, and has no hesitation in declaring that the building is perfectly fit for purpose.