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Grampian, Highland & Islands today (Monday) becomes the second Sheriffdom in Scotland with a unified courts administration joining Lothian & Borders which became the first in March this year.
From today the Scottish Court Service will be responsible for the administration of the former District Courts, now Justice of the Peace Courts as well as Sheriff Courts in Grampian, Highland & Islands. Scottish Court Service also has responsibility for the Court of Session, High Court and Office of the Public Guardian.
The changes are part of new Summary Justice Reforms which have also seen widely criticsed new powers passed to police officers, as well as a shift in the presumption of innocence, according to the Criminal Bar Associations who objected to the measures at consultation.
The reforms were introduced to to transform how police, fiscals and courts handle thousands of summary cases. Summary justice accounts for over 90% of all those taking place in Scotland.
From today, Justice of the Peace Courts will operate under the Scottish Court Service in Aberdeen, Banff, Dingwall, Dornoch, Elgin, Fort William, Inverness, Portree, Peterhead, Stonehaven, Stornoway, Tain and Wick. Business from Inverurie District Court will transfer to the new Aberdeen Justice of the Peace Court and business from Nairn District Court and Kingussie District Court will be heard in the new Justice of the Peace Court in Inverness.
"The changes allow us to further streamline business processes and introduce compatible court technology linking all of the justice agencies involved," said Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eleanor Emberson.
In a joint statement, Area Procurator Fiscals Andrew Laing (Highland & Islands) and Morag McLaughlin (Grampian), commented: "Court unification presents an excellent opportunity to rationalise the court administration process across Scotland to make the best use of court time and improve the level of public service to court users and members of the public."
The Scottish Government confirmed that unification of court services will roll out across Scotland , with the remaining unifications dates as follows:
Glasgow - December 2008
Tayside, Central and Fife - February 2009
South Strathclyde, Dumfries & Galloway - June 2009
North Strathclyde - October 2009