‘A step backwards for local justice’

Concerns have been raised over plans to abolish honorary sheriffs in Scottish courts.

The proposals by the Scottish government are contained in the Court Reform (Scotland) Bill.

It is feared the plans could have a deep impact on the isles, where honorary sheriffs are often called upon to preside over first appearances of people accused of criminal offences.

They also have the authority to sign documents – such as warrants – in the absence of a resident sheriff.

Isles MSP Tavish Scott has written to the justice secretary Kenny MacAskill to voice his concerns over the proposals.

MSP Tavish Scott.
MSP Tavish Scott.

The Scottish government has said that the role should be assumed by the creation of new summary sheriffs and increased use of technology.

There has been no information as to where the summary sheriffs would be based – but Mr Scott believes it is unlikely they would be in the islands.

“Honorary sheriffs are fundamental to the delivery of justice in Shetland, particularly now that the courts service has recently reduced the islands sheriff cover.

“There are many instances where honorary sheriffs must make decisions as a matter of urgency, such as in child protection cases and granting police warrants outwith traditional ‘office hours’.

“How would this be done if there were no honorary sheriffs and the sheriff were to be in Glasgow? The Scottish government have proposed the use of summary sheriffs to counter this, but where would they be based?

“If a sheriff is not in Shetland that will cause difficulties for local police, social work and other agencies who need access to warrants and other court procedures at all times of day and night.

“The Scottish government’s proposals are the latest step backwards for local justice and serve to illustrate a complete lack of understanding about what works in the islands.

“I appreciate that there may not be a great demand for honorary sheriffs in urban areas where a sheriff will almost always be available, however, in island areas such as Shetland, the requirements of local justice can differ greatly, and, as a result, the role of honorary sheriffs is one which is key to delivering effective and efficient local justice. It is unfortunate too, that the Scottish government did not ask honorary sheriffs for their views about the delivery of justice and instead proposed their abolition without thinking through the consequences.”

Honorary sheriffs in the isles include Lerwick solicitor Eric Peterson, SIC convener Malcolm Bell, former director of the council’s marine operations, Captain George Sutherland, retired policeman Arnold Duncan, retired Sullom Voe Terminal operations manager Roger McDonald, former children’s panel reporter Wendy Scott.


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • March 27th, 2014 8:19

    Police, fire brigade, now the courts are turning South.

    And yet, all the while the Scottish Government is talking to island councillors about increased autonomy in an independent Scotland?

    And the councillors believe they are making “real progress”.

    As my late granny used to say, “Him at lives langest’ll see maist!”

  • Stewart Mac

    • March 27th, 2014 13:09

    This isn’t about the Councillors – They have absolutely Nil control over this or indeed input to the decisions.

    This is a direct result of the wishes of our “Justice” Secretary, one Kenny MacAskill MSP, who has over recent years ridden rough shod over the Scottish justice system and deliberately ignored his own departments “consultations” where the outcome of the consultation differed from his/his departments pre-determined idea of what the outcome should be. A definite case of “Kenny Knows Best” although on this occasion, like so many before them it would appear that Kenny most definitely doesn’t know best.

    • John Tulloch

      • March 27th, 2014 20:10

      I agree, Stewart, that our councillors are not responsible for this latest piece of McAskill eccentricity.

      My concern is, rather, that they negotiating in good faith for increased local autonomy with Mr McAskill’s Scottish Government colleagues and telling us they are “making real progress”.

      If the Scottish Government is discussing the devolution of powers to island authorities in good faith, why is control of every island service being drawn, inexorably, towards the centre, only for that to be immediately reversed when the autonomy package has been agreed?

      The history of Scottish authorities delaying and obfuscating over the isles freedom has a habit of repeating itself at every opportunity.

      Caveat emptor!

  • Joe Johnson

    • March 27th, 2014 16:56

    of course the SNP will say Shetland can have increased autonomy in an independent Scotland. They’ll say it just so they’ll get people to vote yes. I doubt if there’s a yes vote they’ll keep their word. Salmond is obviously a man without a plan. Obviously has not thought this through. I’m still voting no this September


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