As I returned the other day from yet another abortive trip to Glasgow Sheriff Court (the trial having again been adjourned) I wondered what Lord Gill must be thinking.
You will remember that having been tasked with the job of proposing reforms to the court system in Scotland, he and his team produced a very full and innovative paper last year covering radical procedural changes from the Court of Session to the small claims court.
Whilst it is unlikely we would all agree with everything he proposed, it was impossible not to be impressed with a number of the pragmatic changes the paper suggests. Anyone who appears regularly in our courts will tell you how much time is spent waiting for things to happen. Members of the public and other court users become incredibly frustrated at such delays, caused mainly by an overloading of cases on an increasingly stretched court staff. Counsel, fiscals, solicitors and members of our judiciary become worn down by a system which is straining to keep control of the amount of work being pushed through it.
Of course when Lord Gill started out on this exercise the country was not in the grip of the economic recession we are now all trying to cope with. The Governments in Westminster and Holyrood indicate that real cuts are necessary in public expenditure to cope with the situation. The worry must be that much of what Lord Gill proposes will be largely ignored or not implemented for these reasons. Indeed it may well the case that other cuts are to be considered. It will be argued that other areas of public sector work are more important.
But that misses the point. Without an efficient and cost effective system our courts are unable to deliver justice in a way which is expected of a modern democratic society. Economic problems usually result in more litigation, whether civil or criminal, for those very reasons. A failure to pay attention to Lord Gill’s proposals will certainly mean more delays, more anxiety and more distress for all who come to court and those who work there. Inevitably there are likely to be mistakes, unwarranted criticism by the press and less attraction to anyone thinking of working in the process. A system which is breaking under pressure becomes broke. Justice cannot be delivered properly and whatever confidence might be left is finally eroded.
It is therefore important for the future of litigation and justice in Scotland that Lord Gill and his paper are not forgotten. To do so would make today’s problems in court far worse. That is something that cannot be allowed to happen.Bobby Frazer is a solicitor and Law Society of Scotland Council member for Edinburgh. The views expressed are personal. Like to comment on this article? Please use the box below. Comments will be checked and then put live.