5. Courts Reform
In 2007, a judicially-led review was undertaken by the then Lord Justice Clerk on the Civil Justice System in Scotland. The purpose of the review was to examine the provision of civil justice by the courts in Scotland, including their structure, jurisdiction, procedures and working methods in a view to improving the system as a whole in Scotland. After 2 years, the outcome was published as the Report of the Scottish Civil Courts Review in 2009.
The report concluded that reform to both the structure and the procedures was required. Subsequently, the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced in 2014 to implement many of the recommendations from the review to maximise the outputs of the courts and improve the way in which civil justice is administered.
In October 2014, the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed by the Scottish Parliament and received Royal Assent in November 2014. The Act repeals the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 and most of the provisions of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1907, and makes some of the most significant changes in a century to the Scottish civil justice system. The reforms aim to address existing inefficiencies and bring about a cost-efficient, effective and accessible civil justice system to all individuals.
Key reforms introduced by the Act and their date of implementation are summarised below.
Reforms implemented prior to 1 April 2016 affect the statistics presented in this bulletin (2015-16). The bulletin now includes statistics on the newly established Sheriff Personal Injury Court ( Table 17), civil appeals to the new Sheriff Appeal Court ( Table 25) and the new requirement for permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against decisions of the Court of Session ( Table 26).
1 April 2015
- The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service
The Scottish Court Service ( SCS) merged with the Scottish Tribunals Service ( STS) to form the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service ( SCTS). SCTS assumes the responsibilities formerly held by SCS and STS and also supports justice by providing the people, buildings and services needed by the judiciary, courts, Office of the Public Guardian and devolved tribunals. The data used in this bulletin is provided by SCTS.
22 September 2015
- Exclusive Competence of Sheriff Courts
The exclusive competence for all sheriff courts has been extended. Before the Act, only actions with a value of up to £5,000 had to be raised in the sheriff courts, while cases above that value were eligible to be heard in the Court of Session. This has now changed, with actions with a value of up to £100,000 within the exclusive competence level of the sheriff courts, while cases above this value will usually be raised in the Court of Session.
In 2015-16, there were marginal increases in the number of initiated and disposed cases within the sheriff courts. This is in contrast to decreases of 16% and 8% in initiated and disposed cases respectively within the Court of Session. This decrease has been driven by a fall in the activity of the General Department of the Court of Session.
- Sheriff Personal Injury Court
The Sheriff Personal Injury Court was established to increase efficiency and reduce settlement times of personal injury cases. Located in Edinburgh, this Court has jurisdiction over the whole of Scotland in personal injury cases. Specialist personal injury sheriffs, specialist personal injury court procedures and civil jury trials were introduced for the new court. Litigants can now choose to raise actions valued up to £100,000 either in their local sheriff court or in the national personal injury court. For higher value actions, a pursuer (claimant) has the choice of these forums and also the Court of Session. A sheriff can also decide to transfer an action to the personal injury court if it is particularly important or difficult to proceed in the local sheriff court.
There have been 1,143 cases initiated within the Sheriff Personal Injury Court since its establishment up to 31 March 2016 ( Table 17). This is made up of mostly Accident at Work cases (461) and Road Traffic Accident cases (313). In contrast, there were only 172 cases disposed of, mostly Accident at Work cases (75) and Road Traffic Accident cases (72). The new court may have contributed to the decrease in the number of personal injury cases raised in the Court of Session and sheriff courts. Across the three courts where Personal Injury cases can be heard, 8,766 cases were initiated in 2015-16.
- Appeals from Court of Session to the UK Supreme Court
The Courts Reform (Scotland) Act sets out new provisions for bringing civil appeals from the Court of Session to the UK Supreme Court. Permission from judges are now required before they can reach the UK's highest court. This means that any party wishing to overturn a decision from the Inner House of the Court of Session must seek permission beforehand. If the Inner House refuses, the party can seek permission from the Supreme Court directly. In effect, the changes mean that appeals from Scotland to the Supreme Court are now subject to the same rules as appeals from other parts of the UK.
In 2015-16, 16 civil law applications were initiated under the new provisions for bringing appeals to the UK Supreme Court ( Table 26). During this period, 12 applications were disposed of by the Inner House of the Court of Session (nine refused, one granted and two withdrawn).
- Judicial Review
Judicial Review procedural forms have been introduced, requiring an application to be made within a three month time limit for raising proceedings. Applicants must also seek permission from the Court of Session to proceed under the new procedure for review. More information about the statistics for Judicial Review can be found in the Recent trends in civil justice section.
1 January 2016
- Sheriff Appeal Court
To ensure cases are dealt with at an appropriate level, and prevent unmeritorious claims from reaching the higher courts, a new Sheriff Appeal Court has been established. Presided over by Appeal Sheriffs, it hears civil appeals, with the role of Sheriff Principal as adjudicator for determining appeals against decisions of sheriffs being abolished. The effect of the reforms largely removes the ability to appeal directly from the Sheriff Court to the Court of Session, so that most appeals must go through the Sheriff Appeal Court. The Sheriff Appeal Court also started hearing criminal appeals in 22 September 2015.
Since January 2016, 48 civil appeals have been initiated in the new Sheriff Appeal Court, of which 44 cases were raised under ordinary cause (including summary applications) ( Table 25). Debt cases were most common and made up almost half of all appeals. Over the same period, only three appeals were disposed of.
1 April 2016
- Summary Sheriffs
New Summary Sheriffs have been created with a more limited jurisdiction than sheriffs that is limited to dealing with cases of value less than £5,000 and certain other matters. This has been introduced in order to ensure civil cases are heard at the most appropriate levels within the court structure and processed more efficiently. Summary sheriffs also have a criminal jurisdiction and competence.
28 November 2016
- Simple Procedure (phase one)
The new simple procedure replaces the current small claims and summary cause procedures, applying to cases with a value less than £5,000. The simple procedure has been designed to be efficient, inexpensive and informal so that parties can represent themselves in these lower monetary value cases. The simple procedure is mainly dealt with by the new summary sheriffs that have been introduced by the Act. A second phase of simple procedure will follow in Autumn 2017, covering certain types of actions not covered by the first phase such as personal injury cases.
The above changes are not an exhaustive list of all the changes arising from the Courts Reform Act. Transitional arrangements apply to all of the reforms described. More information on the Act can be found at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
Separately from the reforms introduced by the Courts Reform Act, the structure of devolved tribunals is currently being reformed by provisions in the Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014, which created two new tribunals - the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and the Upper Tribunal for Scotland, known collectively as the Scottish Tribunals. Devolved tribunals that transfer-in to the First-tier are grouped together in themed chambers, with appeal to the Upper Tribunal. Onwards appeal is to the Inner House of the Court of Session. Tribunals will transfer-in on a phased basis. The first Chamber became operational in December 2016 dealing with Housing and Property matters.
The Scotland Act 2016 put in place arrangements to devolve the administration of reserved tribunals to the Scottish Parliament. This will be done on a case-by-case basis using secondary legislation.
The UK Parliament will retain responsibility for legislating for the subject matter of these tribunals. For example, the Scottish Parliament will be able to remove the requirement to pay a fee to bring a case to an employment tribunal. However, it will not be able to alter employment rights, such as the right to a redundancy payment.
Statistics on tribunals are not included in this bulletin.
Email: Jeremy Darot