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Civil justice statistics in Scotland 2020-21

Statistics on civil law cases in the Scottish courts together with other related information, such as statistics from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey.

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Introduction

Civil Justice Statistics in Scotland presents statistics on civil law cases in the Scottish courts together with other related information, such as statistics from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey.

The majority of court buildings were closed during the first nationwide lockdown resulting from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Innovations in processing civil business, initially to allow urgent cases to be progressed, and then moving to all other case types, were enabled by Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 emergency legislation. This allowed for a range of measures including electronic submission and signing of documents, and virtual hearings. At the outset of the pandemic some civil court hearings were able to proceed by way of written submissions and telephone hearings before moving to a general presumption of virtual Webex hearings. Despite these measures, civil justice case volumes for 2020-21 were noticeably lower than previous years. It is unlikely that the data is representative of general trends in civil business and caution is therefore advised in comparing statistics for 2020-21 with previous year.

There were 43,632 civil law cases initiated across the Court of Session and sheriff courts in 2020-21 (the figure excludes summary applications which are however included in Figure 1 repossessions). This represents a decrease of 41% from 2019-20.

Figure 1: Long-term downward trend in initiated cases, latest figures lower due to restrictions during the pandemic
A chart showing the long-term downward trend of civil justice cases since 2011-12.

Key points at a glance:

  • The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and associated public health measures have had an impact on civil justice during the year 2020-21. This resulted in lower volumes of cases going through the courts. Caution is therefore advised in interpreting the figures in this bulletin for 2020-21, particularly in terms of how they compare with earlier years.
  • According to the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2019-20, around three-in-ten adults experienced civil law problems in the three years prior to interview.
  • Debt cases made up 49% of principal craves initiated at civil courts in 2020-21. Similar to overall cases, debts recorded a sharp drop in numbers from 2019-20.
  • Eviction actions initiated made up 1% of principal craves initiated at civil courts in 2020-21.
  • Family cases made up 24% of principal craves, of which 69% related to divorce and dissolution in 2020-21.
  • Family (except divorce/dissolution), repossession and eviction action cases initiated tend to have multiple craves in contrast to personal injury, damages and debts which are less likely to.
  • Over two-fifths (43%) of personal injury cases were raised in the national Sheriff Personal Injury Court.
  • 51% of damages cases were initiated under ordinary cause in 2020-21. 54% of the ordinary cause cases disposed of had a decree of absolvitor.
  • The number of repossession cases initiated have fluctuated in recent years, they were down 96% compared to 2019-20.
  • All sheriffdoms in Scotland experienced a decrease in initiated cases from 2019-20. The decrease was nearly uniform, ranging from 41% in Lothian and Borders to 47% in Glasgow and Strathkelvin.
  • In 2020-21, there were 12,135 civil legal aid grants, the vast majority of which were for cases in the sheriff courts.

Data sources

This publication presents management information from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Services systems. There is also relevant information from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, Scottish Legal Aid Board and National Records of Scotland.

Statistical Tables

All tables referred to in this bulletin are available in the 'Supporting Documents' Excel workbook 2020-21 Main Tables for this bulletin. The workbook includes an 'Index' sheet, with information on how to navigate the tables, alongside a 'Notes' sheet, with relevant details to assist users when reading and interpreting results.

Contact

Email: justice_analysts@gov.scot

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