The success of the court reforms in Scotland now depends on the continued commitment of all those working in the courts to making them work, the Lord President said in his address today to mark the opening of the new legal year.
Lord Carloway noted that in February 2017, a decade will have passed since Lord Gill was tasked with reviewing the civil justice system.
“Over that period, all of our professional lives – as judges, advocates, solicitors, and court staff – have become steeped in the process and language of change,” he told an audience in the First Division courtroom in Parliament House.
“The purpose and principles of the reforms – to make the justice system work efficiently and, in particular, to promote just decisions which are delivered in proportionate time and at proportionate cost – are well known. We must not lose sight of that goal.”
After referring to the introduction over the past year of the Sheriff Appeal Court and the All-Scotland Personal Injury Sheriff Court – the impact of which on the number of court sitting days would "probably not become apparent for another few years" – he continued: “The focus must now shift from structure to function. The success of the reforms, and of the new courts, will depend not only on the structure which is now in place, but on the continued commitment of the judiciary, court staff, and the profession to make sure that the goal of the reforms is met.”
The Lord President announced that two Outer House judges, augmented by two more at any given time, will sit throughout the term to hear ordinary civil business in the Court of Session. While programming of cases "continues to be a major challenge, given the level, and more significant, the timing of settlements", the move should reduce the prospect of losing proof and judicial review diets and address "the Cinderella reputation of the non-commercial Outer House".
He continued: "The increased efficiency of the Criminal Appeal Court and the diversion of summary business from that court ought to mean that there will be two civil divisions sitting in appellate business throughout the year along with one criminal division, reversing the situation five years or so ago."
The planned ending of the summer recess, announced yesterday (click here for report), "perhaps less of a culture shock than it first appears", meant that “practitioners will take their vacations according to their own business calendars rather than having to follow that of the court”.
Lord Carloway also introduced to the court the 13 new Queen’s Counsel whose appointments were announced last week (click here for report). He said the rank and dignity of Queen’s Counsel was hard earned and well deserved for each of them.
Other matters covered in the address include the continuing digitisation of the courts, the Evidence and Procedure Review, and the length of time taken to issue Outer House opinions in cases taken to avizandum.