Civil justice statistics in Scotland: 2011-2012

Civil Law Statistics in Scotland 2011-12 provides

information about cases which have gone through the civil courts in Scotland.

together with some wider, contextual information about the extent of civil

problems in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

6. Debt

Summary of Debt

  • The number of debt cases initiated in the sheriff courts decreased by 11 per cent during 2011-12 to 40,242. This is a decrease of 39 per cent since 2008-09.
  • Most of the cases initiated (72 per cent) were raised using the small claims procedure.
  • The vast majority of debt cases were undefended (91 per cent).

Introduction to debtor law in Scotland

6.1 Debt cases are raised in court when a creditor seeks to enforce their right to payment for goods sold, services provided or money lent.

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey Findings

6.2 Five per cent of respondents to the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey reported having money or debt problems. Of these, 85 per cent felt that their money/debt issue was 'very important' to solve, with just over half (54 per cent) stating that it was their most important civil issue. The highest prevalence of money and debt issues was in the 25 to 34 year and 35 to 44 year age groups, with seven per cent of these categories reporting a problem. Respondents in owner-occupied accommodation had a lower prevalence of money and debt issues (three per cent), in contrast to eight per cent of social renters and nine per cent of those in private rented accommodation. More urban dwellers reported an issue (five per cent) than rural dwellers (three per cent).

Debt in the context of the courts

Court of Session

6.3 The General Department of the Court of Session deals with very few debt cases, with only eight cases initiated and two cases disposed in 2011-12. The sheriff courts deal with a considerably greater volume of debt cases, which is most likely because the majority of debt cases fall within the privative jurisdiction of the sheriff courts. However, the number of debt cases initiated has continued to drop across all procedural levels[12] of the sheriff courts. One possible reason for this is the economic downturn, as some pursuers (or creditors) may feel there is little to gain in pursuing a debt action through the court where there is little possibility of recovering money.

Sheriff Court

6.4 In 2011-12, there were 40,242 debt cases initiated in the sheriff courts, a decrease of 11 per cent on 2010-11 and 39 per cent on 2008-09. The majority of these cases (72 per cent) were raised under small claims procedure, with ordinary cause-ordinary procedure accounting for 17 per cent of debt cases and summary cause for 10 per cent. [Table 13].

Table 13: Debt cases initiated and disposed of1 in the sheriff courts, by case type, 2008-09 to 2011-12

Procedure 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 % change on 2010-11
Ordinary cause 14,669 12,054 9,200 6,944 -25
Commercial 400 318 223 266 19
Summary cause 7,157 5,307 4,415 3,922 -11
Small claim 43,549 38,251 31,533 29,110 -8
Total 65,775 55,930 45,371 40,242 -11
Ordinary cause 12,553 10,150 7,729 5,885 -24
Commercial 252 231 166 175 5
Summary cause 7,097 5,772 4,337 3,884 -10
Small claim 38,594 40,347 31,026 28,934 -7
Total 58,496 56,500 43,258 38,878 -10

1. Figures for initiations and disposals do not necessarily refer to the same cases. See paragraph 11.9 for further details.

6.5 Nearly all small claim cases initiated in 2011-12 were for debt, accounting for 92 per cent of the 31,698 small claim cases initiated. Debt was also the most common ordinary cause - ordinary procedure case type initiated, accounting for 74 per cent of these cases. By contrast only 17 per cent of all summary cause cases initiated in 2011-12 were for debt. [Table 2] [Table 13].

6.6 The majority of debt cases (91 per cent) were undefended. A decree in favour of the pursuer was the most common type of final disposal for the 38,878 debt cases disposed of in 2011-12, with 62 per cent of cases overall being awarded this disposal type, rising to 79 per cent for ordinary cause - ordinary procedure cases. Small claims cases exhibited the highest proportion of cases dismissed, with over a third (36 per cent) of cases being awarded this disposal type. [Table 14].

Table 14: Debt cases initiated and disposed of1 in the sheriff courts, by case type, 2011-12

Case Type Initiated Disposed
Absolvitor Dismissed For Pursuer Expenses Only Other Total
Defended Undefended Defended Undefended Defended Undefended
Ordinary Cause 6,944 510 234 425 389 4,256 17 8 46 5,885
Commercial 266 42 8 13 25 84 2 1 - 175
Summary Cause 3,922 234 114 914 93 2,467 4 26 32 3,884
Small Claim 29,110 738 676 9,847 337 16,509 36 669 122 28,934
Total 40,242 1,524 1,032 11,199 844 23,316 59 704 200 38,878

1. Figures for initiations and disposals do not necessarily refer to the same cases. See paragraph 11.9 for further details.

Differences across sheriffdoms

6.7 There is little variation in the number of cases initiated per 1,000 population across each of the sheriffdoms, with the exception of Glasgow and Strathkelvin which exhibits a considerably higher rate of initiations (13 per 1,000 population).

Table 15: Debt cases initiated in the sheriff courts by sheriffdom, 2011-12

Sheriffdom Initiated Initiations per 1,000 population1
Glasgow and Strathkelvin 9,079 13
Lothian and Borders 7,449 8
Tayside, Central and Fife 7,082 7
South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway 6,416 7
North Strathclyde 5,122 7
Grampian, Highlands and Islands 5,094 6
Scotland 40,242 8

1. Based on 2011 mid-year population estimates, National Records of Scotland


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