Police in north east Fife have been dissuaded from reporting certain types of crime following the closure of Cupar Sheriff Court, it has been claimed.
Councillor Margaret Kennedy, chair of Fife’s safer communities committee, said she believed that the procurator fiscal’s office in Dundee has been giving informal advice to officers in north east Fife “not to bother” reporting low level instances of careless driving or housebreaking in a bid to ease the workload at the city’s sheriff court.
That assertion has been categorically denied by the Crown Office, but the allegations have once again raised question marks over the Scottish Court Service’s decision to shut 10 Scottish courts back in 2014.
Cupar Sheriff Court business was subsequently transferred to Dundee, but Ms Kennedy reckons the latter is struggling to cope with the cases emanating from north east Fife which would hitherto have been heard at Cupar.
“Apparently there is a report going through the relevant committee at Holyrood which has concluded that the effect of the loss of Cupar has been the most keenly felt, though the publication has been delayed,” Ms Kennedy said.
“This for me begs the question as to why Cupar was closed at all. The case had not been made and this to my mind proves it to a great degree.
“What will the impact be on the wider justice system if we aren’t dealing with some criminal activity, does this lead to increasing severity from some individuals who believe there is no deterrent?”
Figures revealed by The Courier last summer suggested that the number of serious cases being delayed due to lack of time in Dundee more than quadrupled since the closure of neighbouring courts, with 22% of solemn cases delayed due to a lack of court time after the move compared with just 5% prior to the closure.
However, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) stressed that there was no link between court closures and the increase in solemn adjournments.
A Crown Office spokesperson dismissed the latest suggestions about what impact the closure of Cupar court has had on Dundee, adding: ““It is wholly inaccurate and misleading to suggest police have been, or would ever be advised, “not to bother reporting” any alleged criminality such as this.
“Reports relating to instances of careless driving and house-breaking continue to be received and are considered on a case by case basis before any decision on to how proceed is taken.”
Despite that though, local Cupar solicitor Douglas Williams said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if more diversions – such as fixed penalty notices – had been used in some instances to avoid court appearances.
“What also seems to be happening is that there are more adult cautions or warnings being given out,” he noted.
Highlighting the impact of Cupar’s closure on local businesses, Mr Williams added that the move had been “extremely inconvenient” for his business and clients in north east Fife, and has caused law firms in the area to see their work “diluted”.
“What’s happened is that people are being denied access to justice,” he continued.
“What the Scottish Government want is everything centralised. They put out platitudes about power going back to regions but they want things tightly controlled.
“The bottom line is that they don’t care about rural communities, because that’s not where the power bases are.”