Civil justice statistics in Scotland: 2016-2017

The 2016-17 Civil Justice in Scotland release includes main statistics tables and figures and supplementary statistics tables.

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3. History of civil law court cases

The volume of civil law court cases in Scotland has changed markedly over the past four decades (Figure 3).[4]

Figure 3: 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.

Simple procedure amalgamated small claim and the most straightforward types of cases found under summary cause procedures, and was introduced part way through 2016-17. The more complex types of summary cause cases will come under simple procedure at a future date. Cases registered prior to the commencement of simple procedure are dealt with in line with the procedure in place at that time. It is designed to provide a speedy, inexpensive and informal way to resolve disputes where monetary value does not exceed £5,000. It has already resulted in a drop in the number of cases dealt with under small claim and summary cause procedures.

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 until 2015-16, before falling to 2,250 in 2016-17. The latest decrease is mainly a result of the establishment of the Sheriff Personal Injury Court which led to a 74% decrease in personal injury cases initiated in the Court of Session.

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 general trend is a decrease in total number of civil law cases initiated although at a slower pace than earlier years.


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