Deluge of cases and delays could hit sheriff courts
The Law Society of Scotland has today warned that Scottish Government proposals to radically overhaul Scotland's civil court structure could produce a deluge of work for Scotland's sheriff courts, causing significant delays for those who depend on local courts.
The proposals, contained in the draft Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill, significantly increase the threshold for cases to be heard by the Court of Session. Currently, the Court of Session can hear all civil cases where the sum sued for is £5,000 or above. The draft Bill proposes changing the requirements, so only cases valued at over £150,000 can be raised in the Court of Session.
Kim Leslie, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland's Civil Justice Committee, said: "If the proposals are implemented as currently drafted, a deluge of cases could hit Scotland's sheriff courts.
"There is a risk that sheriff courts will be unable to cope with the volume of new work suddenly arriving at their door. We expect this to be made worse by the recent Scottish Government decision to support the closure of 20% of sheriff courts across Scotland.
"If sheriff courts are unable to cope with the increased workload, there could be significant delays for court users."
The Law Society of Scotland's Civil Justice Committee carried out research in to the effects of raising the threshold to £150,000. The research revealed that only 254 cases settled with a value in excess of this figure, which represented less than 2% of Court of Session business.
Ms Leslie added: "If the proposals are implemented as currently drafted, we could end up in the paradoxical situation of an almost completely deserted Court of Session, whilst court users in the sheriff courts suffer long delays as the courts struggle to cope with an increased workload.
"The Scottish Government is right to raise the threshold; however, we would prefer to see the limit set at no more than £50,000. This would allow cases with a lower value, but which still raise complex issues of matter of fact or law, to continue to be heard by the Court of Session."
Notes to editors
The draft Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill provides the legal framework for implementing the majority of recommendations of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, led by Lord Gill, Lord President of the Court of Session. The consultation can be viewed here
The Law Society of Scotland's response to the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill consultation can be viewed here
Research undertaken by the Society's Civil Justice Committee in 2009/10 suggests that less than 2% of the civil cases dealt with by ten of the main user firms of the Court of Session have a value in excess of £150,000.
Following analysis of information obtained from the Scottish Government, the Society suggests that if the exclusive competence of the Court of Session were to be raised to £150,000, only 9% of personal injury actions in Scotland would continue to be raised in that court, with the remaining 91% of cases transferred to the sheriff courts.
The Scottish Government's own figures suggest that less than 20% of personal injury actions in Scotland would continue to be raised in the Court of Session if the jurisdiction limit were to be raised to £150,000.
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27 May 2013