Easier access to Justice – Court Reform in Scotland

NOV 12, 2015 ‹ back to news & views

The Court Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, which passed in October 2014, was a result of Lord Gill’s Scottish Civil Courts Review.  The Gill review recommendations were published in 2009 and the Scottish Government has implemented the vast majority of them.  The aim of the Act is to streamline and modernise a civil court system which has been labelled ‘slow, inefficient and expensive’.

The Act introduces significant changes to the civil court system in Scotland.  Most notably:-

  • An increase in the threshold for cases to be heard in the Sheriff Court from £5,000 to £100,000.  This means any case with a value less that £100,000 must now be raised in the Sheriff Court.
  • Creation of a new Sheriff Appeal Court. This new body will be staffed by Sheriffs Principal from the six Sheriffdoms in Scotland. The Sheriff Appeal Court will be able to sit at any Sheriff Court in Scotland and will replace appeals to the Sheriff Principal or Court of Session. 
  • Creation of a new tier of judge, the Summary Sheriff, who will deal with low value and low complexity civil cases under £5,000.  A new ‘Simple Procedure’ has been introduced for such cases and will replace existing Small Claims and Summary Cause procedures.
  • The establishment of a specialist Personal Injury Sheriff Court.  It is anticipated that this will be in Edinburgh, and is intended to allow specialist Sheriffs to deal with cases in a specialised forum. 
  • A new three month time limit for bringing judicial review cases to the Court of Session.
  • Creation of interdicts which can be enforceable outwith the Sheriffdom that granted them.

These reforms mean that the Sheriff Courts will now deal with a substantial volume of court business which would otherwise have gone to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.  This comes at a time when the number of Sheriff Courts has been cut as a consequence of other reforms to the structure of the court service itself.   Concerns have been raised as to the resources and capacity of the Sheriff Courts in dealing with such an influx of business.  However the Scottish Court Service is confident that the Sheriff Courts have sufficient capacity to deal with the extra workload. 

The majority of these provisions will be brought about by way of amendment to the Court rules on an ongoing basis.  It is anticipated that the first Summary Sheriffs will be appointed and the Personal Injury Sheriff Court established in the autumn of 2015.  Time will tell whether the Sheriff Courts will in fact provide faster and more accessible justice. 

Our team can advise and keep you updated on these reforms.  Should you wish to discuss the implications then we would be delighted to answer any queries you may have.