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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2. Recent trends of civil law court cases

This chapter examines the evidence from courts data of the effect of court reforms in recent years.

The number of initiated cases at the sheriff courts were at their highest (80,502) in 2011-12, then stabilised at around 72,000 for the next four years (the figure excludes summary applications which are however included in Figure 1 repossessions) (Table 1 & Figure 3). Cases in the Court of Session saw a more fluctuating trend.

The total number of civil cases initiated in the courts decreased in 2020-21, down 41% on the total for 2019-20. There were decreases in all case types from the previous year. The highest decreases were seen in repossessions (down 96%), evictions (down 95%) and damages (down 65%). Family (down 14%) and personal injury (down by 21%) recorded the lowest decreases (see section 3.2 for more information).

In the following sections we examine these trends further in the context of the reforms of civil courts proceedings discussed in chapter 4.

Figure 3: Cases transferred to Sheriff Personal Injury Court and simple procedure
Chart showing the total number of civil justice cases initiated and the court procedures used on them.

2.1 Courts and procedures

In 2020-21, 38,593 cases were initiated in the sheriff courts and 36,348 were disposed. This represents a 44% decrease in initiations and a 38% decrease in disposals on the previous year (Table 3).

However, the decrease in initiations was not uniform across all procedures in the sheriff courts. The numbers of summary cause procedures decreased by 84% from 2019-20 due to the emergency legislation which protected tenants during the pandemic as part of Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. Small claims and simple procedure decreased by 45% and 43% respectively, while ordinary cause saw a 22% decrease.

2020-21 is the fourth financial year of phase one simple procedure, and saw 18,350 cases initiated, and 20,293 disposed of. There was a 43% decrease in initiated cases from 2019-20, while disposals were down by 28%.

The simple procedure has absorbed nearly all small claims and summary cause cases for debt and damages actions (Table 12 and Table 19).

A further 2,944 cases were initiated in the national Sheriff Personal Injury Court, a 9% decrease on 2019-20 (Table 18). Many of the cases pursued in the Sheriff Personal Injury Court would likely have been initiated at the Court of Session, which has seen a fall in the number of cases initiated since the institution of the specialised court (Table 1).

While business levels have decreased by 41% across all courts since 2019-20, the number of cases initiated at the Court of Session decreased by a smaller margin of 4%, to 2,095 in 2020-21.

Combined, the simple procedure and Sheriff Personal Injury Court accounted for 49% of all civil court business, slightly up from 48% in 2019-20.

The relative costs of these procedures is provided on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service website.

2.2 Judicial review

The Court of Session deals with judicial review. This is a specialised type of court procedure that can be used to challenge the way a person or body with power or authority has made a decision if no other remedy is possible.

There were 238 judicial review cases initiated in 2020-21, a 34% decrease on 2019-20 (Table 25). Between 2015-16 and 2016-17 there was a large decrease, explained in part due to a rise in number of judicial reviews in the preceding year, ahead of the reforms specified in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. The number of judicial reviews initiated at the Petition Department of the Court of Session has been variable over time.

2.3 Appeals

Sheriff Appeal Court (Civil)

In 2020-21, 132 cases were initiated and 131 disposed of (Table 26). Compared to 2019-20, the number of initiated cases decreased by 55% while disposed cases decreased by 22%.

Prior to January 2016, appeals would have been directed to the Court of Session, thereby entailing higher costs and possibly taking longer to determine. There has been a decrease in the appeals made from the sheriff courts, but numbers are small: for the last five years there were 18, 31, 21, 21 and 9 respectively (Table S8 Supplementary statistics tables). All the years correspond to when the Sheriff Appeal Court operated for full financial years.

Appeals from Court of Session to the UK Supreme Court

In 2020-21, 20 civil law applications were initiated under the provisions for bringing appeals to the UK Supreme Court (Table 27). During this period, 17 applications were disposed of by the Inner House of the Court of Session (four granted, 12 refused and one withdrawn).

In 2020-21, of the five cases disposed of by the Supreme Court for permission to appeal (having been initially refused by the Inner House in Scotland), all were refused.



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