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  • Scotland

Making Justice Work: Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill

Background

The key reforms include:

  • The introduction of a new judicial tier in the sheriff courts to be known as "summary sheriffs" who would deal with lower level civil and criminal cases

  • Extending the exclusive competence of the sheriff court to cases where the sum sued for is less than or equal to £150,000 (the current limit is £5,000)

  • The introduction of a new national sheriff appeal court to deal with civil and less serious criminal appeals

  • The setting up of a specialist personal injury court that would have jurisdiction across Scotland and would be a centre of expertise in this area.

The civil court structure has not been reviewed for several decades and the Government considers that reform is required to make sure that cases are dealt with at the appropriate level in order to avoid unnecessary delays and expense.

Responses

DWF Biggart Baillie has submitted its response to the consultation paper. The responses received are now being analysed and enquiries with the Scottish Government suggest that the intention is to publish that analysis in August this year, well in advance of the introduction of legislation to give effect to the reforms. It is currently anticipated that such legislation would be introduced early in 2014.

Comment

Overall, the proposed reforms are to be welcomed. It is hoped that the creation of a new judicial tier within the sheriff court will increase access to the Court of Session and speed up the resolution of claims.

The introduction of a specialist personal injury court would also be a positive step, allowing such actions to be dealt with by sheriffs with appropriate expertise in the area. It makes sense to have specialist courts as there is an increasing trend for specialism among practitioners. Arguably, the breadth of cases which the courts have to deal with makes it more difficult for the bench to keep abreast of developments in all relevant areas of law. For several years there have been specialist sheriffs in a number of sheriff courts dealing with commercial actions and the move towards allocating specialist sheriffs to deal with particular types of case seems set to continue.

Although the proposal seems to be that this specialist court would be based in Edinburgh, Glasgow seems to many to be a more logical choice, given that many such actions involve insurers and, traditionally, Glasgow has had more connections with the insurance industry than the capital.

The increase in the sheriff court's exclusive competence from £5,000 to £150,000 should also be of benefit to insurers. There has been an increasing tendency to raise relatively small value, straightforward personal injury claims in the Court of Session with the consequent cost. Under the present rules, there is very little that can be done to prevent this, but the increase in the sheriff court's exclusive competence would certainly help to reduce this practice.

Contact

For further information, please contact David Stevenson, Partner on +44 (0) 141 228 8124

By David Stevenson

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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