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Modernising the civil court and tribunal systems

Issue

Scotland’s civil courts have been largely unchanged since Victorian times. Because of that, and the massive social and legal changes which have taken place over the last century, the current system is inefficient with unnecessary delays and costs.

For many people, civil disputes concern important and urgent issues such as access to children, debt, divorce, neighbourhood or consumer disputes.

We need a modern civil and administrative justice system where people can sort out their problems quickly, fairly and efficiently.

Actions

Reforming the civil justice system

Civil justice reforms are set out in the Courts Reform Act which is being implemented to ensure that cases are dealt with quicker and more efficienctly at the appropriate level by:

  • increasing the role of the sheriff courts to achieve a far more proportionate allocation of costs and resources
  • introducing new summary sheriffs, able to deal with summary criminal cases and using a problem solving approach to civil actions including family actions
  • ensuring that sheriffs focus on solemn crime and more complex civil cases in the sheriff court
  • creating a new personal injury court with specialist personal injury sheriffs
  • ensuring that the Court of Session will focus on civil disputes of commercial or public significance
  • creating a new Sheriff Appeal Court to hear appeals from the sheriff courts in summary criminal and civil cases

Reforming the tribunals system

With the Tribunals Scotland Act 2014 we are reforming Scotland’s tribunal system under separate legislation to make it less complicated, more user-friendly and more independent of Scottish Ministers. 

Scottish Civil Justice Council

We have established a new body the Scottish Civil Justice Council to advise and make recommendations on improving the civil justice system in Scotland. This will be the first time that Scotland has had a body with oversight of the entire civil justice system.

Background

An independent review of Scotland’s civil courts the Scottish Civil Courts Review was published by Lord Gill, now the Lord President of the Court of Session, in 2009. The review found that the system was ‘slow, inefficient and expensive’ and made wide-ranging recommendations. Lord Gill said that ‘minor modifications to the status quo are no longer an option.’

The Scottish Government responded to the review in November 2010 and accepted the majority of Lord Gill’s recommendations.

These reforms to the civil justice system are part of our Making Justice Work Programme which is being delivered in partnership with the Scottish Courts Service, Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Police. The Programme pulls together a range of current and potential reform to the structure and processes of the justice system, access to justice and alternatives to court.

The Strategy for Justice in Scotland sets out our approach to make the Scottish justice system fit for the 21st century.

Who we’ve consulted

We published a consultation on proposals to restructure the way civil cases and summary criminal cases are dealt with by the courts in Scotland in February 2013.

Following on from this, a consultation on the treatment of civil appeals from the Court of Session was published on May 31, 2013. Stakeholder events were held in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Legislation

The Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 sets the framework for implementing the main recommendations of Lord Gill’s review.

Administrative Justice News

To stay up to date with administrative justice news, please visit the Justice and Safety Blog.

How Scotland is performing

Scotland Performs measures and reports on the progress of government in Scotland. The National Outcomes describe what we want to achieve over the next 10 years.

National Outcome: Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs

Justice Outcomes