Civil justice statistics in Scotland: 2015-2016

Statistics on civil justice, which aims to resolve a range of disputes from debt and eviction to divorce.

This document is part of a collection

3. History of civil law court cases

The volume of civil law court cases in Scotland has changed markedly over the past thirty years ( Figure 2). [4]

Figure 2: Number of civil law court cases since 1979

Figure 2: Number of civil law court cases since 1979

Sheriff courts

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 £750. As a consequence, considerably fewer people have 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 2007. The monetary limits of various sheriff court procedures were subsequently increased, in the case of small claims up to £3,000. This led to a sharp increase in the number of cases initiated using this procedure in 2008, followed by a decline since then.

The number of cases initiated under ordinary cause procedure reached a peak of approximately 60,000 cases in 2005. The aforementioned changes to sheriff court jurisdiction limits in January 2008 led to a subsequent decrease in ordinary cause cases (and an increase in the number of small claims cases). The further decrease in ordinary cause cases during 2011 is believed to be a consequence of the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010 - see the Repossession section for more information.

Court of Session

The Court of Session handles a much lower volume of cases than the sheriff courts. In 1982, over 20,000 cases were initiated in the Court of Session, but this rapidly dropped between 1983 and 1985 when divorce in the sheriff courts became possible from 1 May 1984, and has stayed between approximately 4,000 and 6,000 cases a year since then.

Overall, the total number of civil law cases going through the courts each year has been decreasing since 1991 and fell below 100,000 cases 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. Despite this long-term downward trend, the total number of civil law cases initiated has remained around the 77,000 mark since 2012-13.


Email: Jeremy Darot

Back to top