Concerns over court reforms
In advance of giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee tomorrow, the Law Society of Scotland has today warned that proposals to reform the Scottish courts system could adversely affect access to justice due to the insufficient resources being allocated to implement the major reforms.
The Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill proposes to introduce a £150,000 threshold for cases to be heard in the Court of Session. This would be a dramatic increase from the current £5,000 threshold and will result in a large transfer of cases from the Court of Session to the sheriff courts.
The Society is concerned that although more cases will be heard in the sheriff courts, there will be little increase in the number of sheriffs. This is likely to lead to delays in cases being determined and could adversely affect access to justice.
Whilst the Law Society backs an increase in the sheriff courts' jurisdiction limit, as we recognise that costs are lower where disputes are litigated at the most appropriate level, we would prefer the limit to be set at around £50,000.
Fiona Robb, Secretary to the Law Society's Civil Justice Committee, said:
"We think the Scottish Government is right to raise the threshold; however, we would prefer to see the limit set at no more than £50,000.
"The Scottish Court Service needs to ensure that sheriff courts are properly resourced to manage this significant transfer of business, particularly with the programme of closures currently taking place across the court estate. We think that there should be training for specialist sheriffs and we consider that IT systems need to be improved.
"Without sufficient resources, court users and the administration of justice overall could face substantial delays."
The Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill also proposes to make significant changes to judicial review in Scotland, by introducing a three-month time limit on judicial review cases. The Society is concerned about this proposal and has warned it will restrict access to justice.
Fiona Robb said: "We believe that proposals to introduce a three-month time limit for judicial review cases will restrict access to justice as individuals will find it difficult to determine whether proceedings could be brought within this short period.
"Judicial review offers a vital remedy to individuals and communities, ensuring that public bodies exercise their decision-making powers and functions reasonably and lawfully. It is a crucial safeguard in the relations between citizen and state and is a remedy of last resort."
Fred Tyler, member of the Law Society's Civil Justice Committee, will be giving oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill from 10am tomorrow.
ENDS 17 MARCH 2014
Notes to editors
The Law Society's written evidence on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee can be found on the Law Society of Scotland's website
The Law Society's written evidence on the financial memorandum of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill can be found on the Law Society of Scotland's website
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17 March 2014