9. Quality of the statistics
The large variety of case types and procedural outcomes that can be pursued in civil law mean that recording and reporting civil law court cases accurately and reliably is a challenge. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Court Service (SCS) have invested time over several years to identify the key data how best to strengthen the process of recording this in the courts as cost effectively as possible.
The publication of civil law court statistics was suspended after Civil Judicial Statistics Scotland 2002 because of a lack of precision in the definition of data items that caused inconsistencies in the way in which courts captured and recorded civil data. This meant that the statistics that were published were unreliable and potentially misleading. Extensive work has since been conducted to identify and rectify instances of inconsistent recording of data. Following improvements to data quality, civil law statistics have been published since 2008-09. More recently users of civil law statistics have been consulted to identify data most useful to them.
To assist with the on-going improvement of civil law statistics, a dedicated ScotStat group has been created. The objectives of this group are to:
- identify the key strategic statistical information required by users
- develop and implement a strategy for prioritising and meeting these needs
The group has membership across the civil law community and meets once or twice a year. If you are interested in joining the group, please contact us using the details provided at the end of this document. More information about ScotStat, including links to the civil justice group, is available here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/scotstat
The statistics produced between 2008-09 and 2012-13 have been assessed by the Scottish Government as being of sufficient quality to be published. However, when using the statistics, the following points should be considered.
The way in which the data are recorded means that 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 this is not expected to have a significant impact on the data.
The civil law statistics for 2012-13 can be compared with statistics for 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. However, due to inconsistencies in the data prior to April 2008 and changes in recording methods and definitions, the statistics for 2008-09 to 2012-13 should not be compared with data from the Civil Judicial Statistics Scotland bulletins for 2002 and earlier.
The number of ordinary cause cases disposed of is an underestimate. Analysis of data suspected to be inaccurate and collected between April 2008 and February 2010 identified that about a fifth of the active ordinary cause cases may have been disposed of but were not marked as such in the electronic case management system. However, it could not be determined conclusively whether all the excess cases were in fact disposed of, as the analysed data were not representative of all data collected by the SCS. The number of ordinary cases marked incorrectly is hence likely to be smaller than a fifth.
A number of cases initiated do not proceed beyond having the initial writ or summons registered with the court. These cases cannot be classed as 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 may 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 cannot be calculated.
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.
Divorce and dissolution data sources
The headline divorce and dissolution statistics presented in Tables 5, 6 and 7 of the main statistics are derived from the same aggregate data source used to create statistics for other civil law case types. The supplementary tables on divorces and dissolutions in Scotland are based on individual records that are updated on an on-going basis and enable the detailed breakdown of cases granted by grounds, age, duration, marital status, celebration method and gender. 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 4 of the total number of granted divorces and dissolutions from each source.
Email: Howard Hooper