11. Quality of Statistics Used
11.1 Civil Law Statistics in Scotland 2011-12 replaces the Civil Judicial Statistics bulletin which was published in 2010 and 2011. Prior to this, the publication was suspended after Civil Judicial Statistics Scotland 2002 because of a lack of precision in the definition of data items and consequently the way in which courts captured and recorded civil data, which was inconsistent across the 49 sheriff courts. This meant that the data that were being published were unreliable and potentially misleading.
11.2 The challenge in recording and reporting on civil data reliably is significant and is a consequence of the large variety of case types and procedural outcomes that can be pursued. This produces a highly complex and highly varied set of data which has required intensive consideration by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Court Service (SCS) to identify the key data which should be recorded and reported on and to identify how best to strengthen the process of recording data in the courts as cost effectively as possible.
11.3 Extensive work has been undertaken in the last few years to consult with users of civil judicial statistics to identify data most useful to them and to identify and rectify instances of inconsistent recording of data.
11.4 A civil justice specific ScotStat group has been created. The objectives of this group are:
- Through liaison between users and providers of statistics on civil justice to identify the key strategic statistical information required by users; and
- to develop and implement a strategy for prioritising and meeting these needs.
- 11.5 This has membership across the civil community and will meet once or twice a year.
11.6 The data collected between 2008-09 and 2011-12 have been assessed as being of sufficient quality to be published. In particular there is no evidence of any significant inaccuracies in the data for summary cause and small claim cases. However, the following issues should be noted regarding ordinary cause and summary application cases.
11.7 For ordinary cause cases:
- The number of cases disposed of is an underestimate. An analysis of the data suspected to be inaccurate identified that about a fifth of the active ordinary cause cases studied may have been disposed of but were not marked as such in the electronic case management system. However, it is likely that the number of disposals recorded has been underestimated by less than this as the data analysed were not representative of all the data collected by the SCS and it could not be determined conclusively that these cases should have been disposed of.
- A number of cases initiated do not proceed beyond having the initial writ / summons registered with the court. These cases are not technically disposed of as they can be resumed under certain circumstances. The analysis found that up to around a tenth of the ordinary cause cases studied had no further action after initiation.
- A number of cases are sisted (suspended), either for a defined period or until the occurrence of a particular event. Again, these cases are not disposed of as they will be resumed in the future but the SCS is investigating whether cases which have been sisted can be identified within the statistics. The analysis found that around a fifth of the ordinary cause cases studied were currently sisted.
- The Other category on the SCS electronic case management system (CMS) includes a wide range of summary applications but some courts are recording activities under this case type which in future will not be recorded on CMS. These activities cannot be easily identified and excluded from the summary application case count and so the total number of summary application cases is not shown within this publication or associated tables.
- The number of cases disposed of is very likely to be an underestimate but the extent of the undercount is not known and it would be either too resource-intensive or, for some case types, impossible to estimate.
11.9 The figures in the tables for initiations and disposals do not necessarily refer to the same cases as some will be initiated during one year and disposed of during another, i.e. some of the cases initiated will still be active at the end of the year and some disposals will be for cases that were initiated before that year.
11.10 Due to the way in which the data are recorded, if a case is appealed or reclaimed during the same month that it was disposed of then the original disposal will not be counted. However, as there are very few appeals and reclaiming motions each month then this will not have a significant impact on the data.
11.11 Due to the inconsistency in data prior to April 2008 and the changes in recording methods and definitions, the data in this publication should not be compared with data from the Civil Judicial Statistics Scotland bulletins for 2002 and earlier. It can however be compared with data from Civil Judicial Statistics for 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Legislation changes and other legal matters affecting civil business
11.12 The Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force on 30 September 2010. This Act included a change to the way that repossession cases relating to mortgages and loans related to residential property are raised in court - these are now being raised as summary applications. Previously, nearly all court actions for repossession were made under ordinary cause procedure.
11.13 The figures for court actions relating to repossessions are also affected by the UK Supreme Court judgment in the RBS v Wilson case, issued on 24 November 2010. This resulted in all repossession cases being withdrawn from the courts and resubmitted as summary applications following the completion of the two month waiting period required by the judgment. The statistics for court actions relating to repossessions are likely to be skewed for a few months from December 2010 onwards as a result.
11.14 The figures for asbestos-related pleural plaques in 2008-09 were affected by the impact of a House of Lords decision in October 2007, which upheld a majority decision of the Court of Appeal in England (and which was not binding on the courts of Scotland) that the existence of pleural plaques did not constitute actionable damage.
11.15 The subsequent increase in asbestos-related pleural plaques in 2009-10 was mainly due to the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009, which came into force in June 2009 and allows individuals with asbestos-related pleural plaques etc. to raise a court case for personal injury. There have been relatively few disposals of these cases, as many were sisted (suspended) pending the UK Supreme Court's decision as regards a petition challenging the validity of the legislation which was lodged on behalf of a consortium of insurers. That challenge was successfully defended in the Outer House, Inner House and the Supreme Court in January 2010, April 2011 and October 2011 respectively.
Divorce and dissolution data sources
11.16 The headline divorce and dissolution statistics presented in Table 11 and Table 12 are derived from the same aggregate data source as the other statistics in this bulletin. The statistics presented in Divorces and Dissolutions in Scotland were based on a different source comprising individual level data. Both data sources are based on information recorded by the Scottish Court Service but there are differences in the timing and processing of the two extracts. These differences are small, as demonstrated by the comparison in Figure 15 of the total number of divorces and dissolutions from each source. The aggregate data source is regarded as the superior of the two due to more rigorous quality assurance and as such was used to produce the headline divorce and dissolution statistics for this bulletin. However, the individual level data enables more detailed disaggregation of the data - these are available on the Civil Law Statistics in Scotland website.
Burden on data providers
11.17 The estimated cost to the SCS of supplying and validating the data for this bulletin was £3,200. Details of the calculation methodology are available on the Scottish Government Crime and Justice Statistics website at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Crime-Justice/costcalculationstat.
11.18 The SCS continues to review and maintain a watching brief on the accuracy of the data it collects. Courts are issued with guidance on recording practices and it is up to individual courts to process cases in line with this guidance. There is no evidence to suggest significant differences in the 'classification' of case types between courts.
11.19 The SCS continues to work closely with the Scottish Government on the Review of Civil Judicial Statistics and in clarifying that the limitations of the data that are being asked for is clearly understood. The SCS is considering the implications of the Review and will consider further how the accuracy of its data can be improved cost effectively including, for example, reducing the number of disposed cases that go uncounted and improving the accuracy of summary application cases recorded under the Other category.
Corrections to the previous bulletin
11.20 A new method was introduced by the Scottish Government in 2012 to process data received from the Court of Session, which resulted in a slight change being made to the total number of cases disposed of in the General Department for 2010/11. In Civil Judicial Statistics 2010-11, the total number of cases disposed of was 3,183 which has now been amended to 3,187. The 2010-11 Civil Judicial Statistics publication has not been amended to reflect this change and is therefore not consistent with the latest Court of Session data for 2010-11 contained in this bulletin.
Email: Howard Hooper