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Scottish Court Reforms Announced

The Lord President, Brian Gill, Scotland’s most senior judge, announced yesterday that it was important to bring the court system into the “modern world”.

Lord Gill, who has been leading the Scottish Civil Courts Review, has presented a number of radical changes designed to modernise the Scottish court system; he announced the timetable for the implementation of various changes brought about by the Court Reform (Scotland) Act 2014.

Timetable for Change

The first Summary Sheriffs will be appointed in July 2015. A summary sheriff will hear both civil and criminal cases with the idea of freeing up the traditional role of a sheriff, enabling them to concentrate on more complex cases. The Summary Sheriff will hear cases which have a value of less than £5,000. In time, the Summary Sheriffs will deal with a new simplified procedure, which comes into force in the spring of 2016.

In September 2015, there will be a number of fundamental changes including:

  • A new Scotland-wide Sheriff Court based in Edinburgh with exclusive jurisdiction for personal injury cases.
  • The extension of the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sheriff Court will increase up to a value of £100,000 which seeks to free up availablity in the Court of Session.
  • A new criminal Sheriff Appeal Court will be set up.
  • Introduction of a new permission stage for judical review.

In January 2016, the Sheriff Court Appeal court will be extended to civil cases.

Specialisation

Sheriffs will have the opportunity to pursue specialisms in the field of civil law (such as family or commercial law). In addition, the new office of Summary Sheriff will lead to the recruitment of Sheriffs who will specialise in dealing with lower value claims. Presently, these claims take up the majority of the sheriff’s time, such as small claims, housing repossessions, summary prosecutions, family disputes and children’s hearing referals.

Lord Gill suggested the possibility of an Energy and Natural Resources Court based in Edinburgh.

Sheriffs will be expected to be flexible to the needs of the courts, and efficiency will no longer be impeded by the traditional boundaries between Sheriffdoms or by rigid procedural rules whose justification has long been forgotten.

Access to Justice

Lord Gill was keen to open courts to public scrutiny and understanding and appointed Lady Dorrian to consider providing proposals. Lady Dorrian’s report made a number of welcome conclusions, including the fliming of civil and criminal appeals and legal debates being broadcast live (subject to clear guidelines and safeguards). In addition, journalists will be able to register with the Scottish Court Service to enable them to use live text-based communication, such as Twitter. Personally, I would like such reforms to extend to all court users and not just journalists.

Technology

Lord Gill clearly sees the modern court embracing new technology, which many court users are already comfortable using. He predicts that the court will move quickly towards being paperless with court papers being filed electronically, remote access video link wll be available between judges, lawyers, clerks and witnesses, and there will be a move toward hearings that are no longer based on oral evidence.

Conclusion

It is an exciting time to be a court solicitor - many of the technologies that solicitors are already adept at using will be embraced by the court and this can only be a good thing for judges, solicitors and clients.

For more information, the full text of the Lord President’s speech can be accessed here

Follow me on Twitter @PCAK_Law for further updates

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Philip Knight

Associate

I work within the Commercial Litigation and Real Estate litigation teams and cover both our Edinburgh and Glasgow offices. I have cases in the Sheriff Court, the Court of Session and the Supreme Court.