1. Structures and procedures in civil courts
In Scotland, civil law cases are usually conducted in a sheriff court or the Court of Session. Some cases are also heard in tribunals (section 1.3). This chapter examines the procedures used in civil law in the Court of Session and sheriff courts (Figure 2).
Figure 2 shows the current court structure and procedures, detailed in the following sections.
1.1 Sheriff court procedures
Civil law cases initiated in the sheriff courts can be pursued in one of five procedures:
Small claims – Small claims (claims up to £3,000) have largely been replaced by the simple procedure except for a very small number of EU cases.
Summary cause – This procedure is used where the case involves any monetary claim over £3,000 and up to and including £5,000. It is also used for the recovery of rented property, for the recovery of moveable property and for personal injury cases up to and including £5,000. Cases carried out using this procedure may be heard only in the sheriff courts at first instance. Simple procedure (phase one) has replaced actions relating to payment, delivery or for recovery of possession of moveable property and actions which order someone to do something specific.
Summary application – This is a less commonly used procedure, designed to be quick and informal. It is generally used for statutory applications (in other words, processes set out in legislation). For example, appeals from decisions of licensing boards are heard under summary application. Actions for the repossession of homes because of mortgage arrears also take place under summary application.
Simple procedure – This was introduced by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, amalgamating small claims actions and summary cause in the sheriff courts, from 28 November 2016. Simple procedure (phase one) only covers the most straightforward summary causes, procedures for more complex cases will follow in due course. Similar to the procedures it replaced, the simple procedure applies to cases with a value up to and including £5,000.
Ordinary cause – This procedure is used where the case involves any monetary claim over £5,000, for cases involving family disputes and for many other cases where more complex legal issues arise. Cases carried out using this procedure may be heard in the sheriff courts or the Court of Session. Since 22 September 2015, cases up to and including a value of £100,000 are within the exclusive competence of the sheriff courts, as set out by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014.
Since January 2016, appeals of civil cases which have been disposed of in the sheriff courts (whether by summary sheriffs or sheriffs) go to the Sheriff Appeal Court (Civil), except in some specialised pieces of legislation where direct appeal may be made to the Inner House of the Court of Session.
1.2 Court of Session procedures
The Court of Session is the highest civil court in Scotland. Cases before the Court of Session are normally initiated in one of two departments:
General Department - deals mainly with cases where one person wants to enforce a legal right against another. The General Department deals with a variety of case types including: personal injury, family, damages, interdict, intellectual property, debt and commercial.
Petition Department - deals with cases where the authority of the court is sought to deal with a variety of legal issues, other than disputes between people or organisations.
Cases are heard either in the Outer House or the Inner House. The Outer House is where the majority of cases are first heard. In this court, a single judge normally presides over cases. The Inner House deals primarily with appeals, although it does hear a small amount of first instance business. At least three judges sit to hear cases in the Inner House, except where the business is procedural in nature when a single judge may sit for most classes of appeal.
Appeals from the Outer House, known as reclaiming motions, are made to the Inner House (which also hears certain appeals from the Sheriff Appeal Court and certain tribunals and other bodies). Judgments of the Inner House of the Court of Session can be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
1.3 Specialist courts and tribunals
A number of specialist civil courts and tribunals also operate in Scotland. Examples of specialist courts include the Scottish Land Court, which deals with agricultural and crofting matters, and the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, which deals with rateable value issues. Appeal from specialist courts is usually to the Inner House of the Court of Session.
Some tribunals in Scotland operate in areas of devolved competence and some of these, the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, for example, are administered by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS). SCTS also provide support for the wide range of tribunals that form the Scottish Tribunals (see section on their website).
There are also a number of tribunals in Scotland which deal with areas of reserved competence – for example the Child Support Tribunal and the Employment Tribunal. These are currently administered by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service.
The Scotland Act 2016 put in place arrangements to devolve the administration of reserved tribunals to the Scottish Parliament. The devolution will be delivered by an Order in Council which is currently the subject of discussion between the UK and Scottish Governments.
Statistics on specialist courts and tribunals are not included in this bulletin. Further information can be found in those courts and tribunals' annual reports (Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland annual reports, Scottish Land Court reported decisions and Lands Tribunal for Scotland). The President of the Scottish Tribunals also produces an annual report, Scottish Tribunals Annual Report.
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