3. History of civil law court cases
The volume of civil law court cases in Scotland has changed over the past thirty years (Figure 2).
The volume of summary cause cases reduced substantially in 1989 following the introduction of the small claims procedure. This procedure was designed to make the court process easier and less formal for people making low value claims, originally up to and including £750. As a consequence, considerably fewer people had to use summary cause procedure which, until then, had been the least formal procedure available in the sheriff courts.
The number of small claims cases briefly increased following the procedure's introduction but subsequently decreased until 2008. At this time the monetary limits of various sheriff court procedures were increased and small claims could be made for cases up to and including the value of £3,000. This led to an increase in the number of cases initiated using this procedure.
The number of cases initiated under ordinary cause procedure has been declining since reaching a peak of just over 60,000 in 2005. Changes to sheriff court jurisdiction limits in January 2008 led to an increase in the number of small claims cases and a decrease in ordinary cause cases. The further decrease in ordinary cause cases during 2011 seems to have been caused by the effects of the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010.
The Court of Session handles a much lower volume of cases than the sheriff courts. In the early 1980s around 20,000 cases were initiated in the Court of Session but this has since dropped to between 4,000 and 6,000.
Overall, the total number of civil law cases going through the courts has been decreasing since the early 1990s and fell below 100,000 for the first time in 2010. In recent years, the biggest falls have been in repossession, debt and damages. The reasons behind this decrease are not known but possible factors include increasing use of alternative methods of dispute resolution and concerns over costs for litigants should they lose the case. However, there are signs from recent years that the downward trend may be coming to an end.
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