Civil justice is concerned with the rights and obligations of people and organisations. One way of resolving civil law disputes between people and organisations is for a case to be brought to court. In Scotland, civil law cases are usually conducted in a sheriff court or the Court of Session. Common types of cases where civil law is used include debt, divorce and claims for personal injury.
This bulletin presents and describes statistics on civil justice in Scotland. The primary focus is on civil law cases in sheriff courts and the Court of Session in the financial year 2013-14. This is supported by an overview of the civil court structure, a description of recent changes in legislation, a historical overview of the volume of civil law cases and a list of definitions. To add further context on civil justice in Scotland, the bulletin also gives an overview of civil justice statistics from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey.
In addition to this bulletin the 2013-14 Civil Justice in Scotland release includes:
- main statistics tables - comprising the tables that appear in this bulletin
- divorce and dissolution statistics tables - giving further breakdowns on divorce and dissolution
- supplementary statistics tables - additional statistics on civil law cases in sheriff courts and the Court of Session
- background data tables - an interactive dataset on civil law court cases by court, that can be used to generate user customised tables and charts
- statistics news release
The 2013-14 Civil Justice Statistics in Scotland release differs from previous releases in this series. Firstly, the name of the release has been altered slightly from civil law to civil justice. This follows a request from users to make the title of the release reflect its content more accurately. Secondly, the 2013-14 release includes a bulletin with commentary on the statistics, similar in style to the 2011-12 release. This version of the bulletin reflects corrections made to the Court of Session statistics in November 2015.
Important notes on the use of civil justice statistics
The civil law court statistics published by the Scottish Government relate only to the principal crave of cases. An individual case can involve a number of different case types. The case type which is listed first on the writ is normally known as the principal crave and the others are described as ancillary craves. The feasibility of publication of statistics on ancillary craves is being investigated.
The large variety of case types and procedural outcomes that can be pursued in civil law mean that recording and reporting civil law court cases accurately and reliably is a challenge. One consequence is that the number of ordinary cause and summary application cases disposed of in the sheriff court is an underestimate. There is no evidence of any significant inaccuracies in the data for summary cause and small claim cases. More information about accuracy of the statistics and further guidance on use of the statistics is available from the Quality of the statistics section.
The statistics in the tables for initiations and disposals do not necessarily refer to the same cases. This is because not all the cases initiated in a year will be disposed in that same year.
Civil law statistics are used within the Scottish Government to inform decision and policy making and to monitor the impacts of policies which have been implemented. The statistics are also used in resource allocation by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and to support third sector activity in lobbying and funding applications. The statistics also inform the public about the business of Scottish courts and facilitate academic research on civil law.
All statistics in this release are presented for financial years (1 April to 31 March) except where otherwise stated.
Recent changes to civil legislation
The introduction of the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 has resulted in changes to the court business relating to children's hearings reported in the Family chapter of this bulletin (see Sheriff court section and Table 8). In general, the summary applications raised in court under the new Act have equivalents in the Children (S) Act 1995. Therefore this bulletin reports a single set of statistics that comprise applications raised under the old Act up to June 2013 and applications raised since then under the new Act.
The statistics shown for children's hearings referral relate to summary applications that are the same under the 2011 Act as the 1995 Act. The applications that make up the children's hearings appeal statistics are slightly wider in the 2011 Act compared to the 1995 Act. The 'extend/vary interim order' statistics are based on applications to extend/vary interim compulsory supervision orders and further extension of interim compulsory supervision orders which are broadly equivalent to section 67 (further detention) of the 1995 Act. Previous editions of this bulletin referred to these statistics as 'Child in place of safety'. The 'Children's Hearing Act 2011 -other' category includes some applications raised under section 76 of the 1995 Act as well as child protection orders and child assessment orders from the 2011 Act. The 'other' category includes Child Protection Order, Child Assessment Order as well as a range of miscellaneous cases. These changes mean that the total number of cases shown in Table 8 is not comparable to the total number of cases in equivalent tables from previous editions of this bulletin.
The Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 introduced a raft of reforms to the way in which civil law cases and summary criminal cases are dealt with by the courts in Scotland. Several measures in the Act, including an increase in the privative jurisdiction (now known as the exclusive competence) of the sheriff court, a new simple procedure in the sheriff court to replace summary cause and small claims, introduction of a third tier of judiciary (summary sheriffs), establishment of a specialist Scotland-wide personal injury court and the creation of a Sheriff Appeal Court will affect statistics in future editions of this bulletin. However, the 2013-14 statistics reported in this bulletin relate to a period before the Act was implemented and so are unaffected by it.
Amongst other measures, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 made provision for the marriage of persons of the same sex. Ultimately, this will affect statistics on divorce and dissolution, although there is no impact on the statistics reported in this edition of the bulletin.
The Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force on 30 September 2010. This Act included a change to the way that repossession cases related to mortgages and loans related to residential property are raised in court so that these are now raised as summary applications. Previously, nearly all court actions for repossession were made using ordinary cause procedure.
The statistics for court actions relating to repossessions are also affected by the UK Supreme Court judgment in the RBS v Wilson case, issued on 24 November 2010. This resulted in all repossession cases being withdrawn from the courts and resubmitted as summary applications following the completion of the two month waiting period required by the judgment. These changes are reflected in the civil law statistics which show a drop to almost zero in the number of ordinary cause - ordinary procedure repossession cases and a corresponding rise in the number of summary application repossession cases. More information on the effect of these changes on civil law statistics is available from Civil Law Statistics in Scotland 2011-12.
Measures to strengthen the protection for local authority tenants against eviction for rent arrears was introduced in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 and came into force on 1 August 2012.
The statistics for asbestos-related pleural plaques cases in 2008-09 were affected by the impact of a House of Lords decision in October 2007, which upheld a majority decision of the Court of Appeal in England (and which was not binding on the courts in Scotland) that the existence of pleural plaques did not constitute actionable damage. Prior to this decision, individuals had been able to bring claims for compensation for pleural plaques since the 1980s.
The subsequent increase in asbestos-related pleural plaques in 2009-10 was mainly due to the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009, which came into force in June 2009 and allows individuals with asbestos-related pleural plaques and related conditions to raise a court case for personal injury. There have been relatively few disposals of these cases, as many were sisted (suspended) pending the UK Supreme Court's decision as regards a petition challenging the validity of the legislation which was lodged on behalf of a consortium of insurers.
That challenge was successfully defended in the Court of Session Outer House, the Court of Session Inner House and the Supreme Court in January 2010, April 2011 and October 2011 respectively.
Email: Alasdair Anthony