Cases in Scotland's sheriff courts will be able to restart where they can be progressed remotely, but the courts are not yet getting back to "business as usual", Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service announced this morning. 

Under new guidance, effective from 1 May 2020, the following categories of sheriff court business will be able to be progressed: 

  • Ordinary, family and commercial actions; adults with incapacity applications; and corporate insolvency proceedings – cases sisted by the court ex proprio motu, administratively adjourned to a date on or after 1 June 2020, or in respect of which no further order was made, can progress where the court is satisfied that there is good reason why the action should be restarted and that it can be progressed remotely without recourse to a hearing which requires the leading of evidence; and
  • Commissary business: applications should be sent in hard copy to the relevant hub court. Court users are warned that due to significantly reduced staff resources, commissary applications will take longer to be processed.

Respondents will have two days to confirm their position on an application to restart a case; if they fail to consent, the applicant shall send confirmation of intimation, plus any correspondence, to the court and the application will be put before a sheriff. No fee will be payable for an application to restart.

Commissary applications previously sent to the closed courts will be progressed by the relevant hub court.

Eric McQueen, SCTS chief executive commented: "This is not a return to business as usual, but the first step towards the resumption of civil business in the sheriff courts. We need everyone to act responsibly and proportionately in bringing cases forward for consideration, to ensure that volumes can be managed.

"Compliance with the Government’s stringent measures to slow the spreads of the virus is vital and any return to a new normal will be on a phased basis. While at this stage it is impossible to give any indicative timescales, I think there will be three broad phases:

  • Phase 1: Lockdown – the current phase. Limited to urgent and necessary civil business in 10 hub courts and those cases outlined in the guidance, which can be progressed remotely.
  • Phase 2: Societal recovery – Government easing some restrictions, allowing the reopening of closed courts, with the expectation that robust social distancing measures will necessitate an increase in digital and remote working, with few physical attendance hearings.
  • Phase 3: Move to "new" business as usual – with a form of social distancing likely to remain in place.

"We remain committed to working with the judiciary, the Faculty and the Law Society of Scotland on a return to whatever a 'new business as normal' looks like for civil and criminal proceedings, as Government restrictions are eased and the exit strategy becomes clear."

Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, responded: “The restarting of civil business in the sheriff courts, beyond the urgent and necessary categories, is extremely encouraging.

“Our team along with our Civil Justice Committee and Council members have worked with SCTS to support this important progress, which is fundamental if the most vulnerable members of our society are to have access to the legal protection they need most at this difficult time. 

“This is however, not a return to business as usual and we ask our members to avoid overburdening the system by prioritising their business.”

She added: “We would also stress that the health and safety of those involved in court business remains a priority and remind solicitors to observe social distancing principles when being in court is essential.”

Click here for the full guidance.

Gradual extension of court business is positive development for access to justice

The staggered reopening of the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) for civil business will have a positive impact on access to justice for the vulnerable families, individuals and businesses served by the Scottish legal profession, according to the Law Society of Scotland.