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Scotland Update: Looking ahead

Courts Reform Bill

At the beginning of September, the First Minister announced the legislative programme for the coming year, which includes the Courts Reform Bill. The measures in the Bill are designed to enable civil court actions to be resolved more quickly and economically than under the present system.

The Scottish Government recently concluded a consultation on key reforms to restructure the way in which civil cases and summary criminal cases are dealt with by the Scottish courts. The proposed reforms would implement the majority of the recommendations made by Lord Gill in his 2009 Report of the Scottish Civil Courts Review. The reforms, which are part of Government’s Making Justice Work programme, are intended to significantly increase the role of the sheriff courts and give the Court of Session its place as the higher civil court dealing with the most complex, high values claims.

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. part of government’s making justice work programme.

The Courts Reform Bill

Court proceedings: New rule on instruction Counsel

Under a ruling that has been issued by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, counsel will no longer need to have a solicitor with them when instructed to appear in civil courts and tribunals. Traditionally, an agent of the client, normally the client’s solicitor, had to be in court when counsel appeared, in case an issue arose on which counsel required immediate instructions. The new ruling enables counsel to appear without a solicitor, provided adequate instructions have been given. It will, of course, still be open to solicitors to accompany counsel when this is considered necessary. According to the Dean of the Faculty, the new ruling was influenced by modern communications which mean that counsel can contact their instructing solicitors quickly when required.

The ruling is a significant development and it has been estimated that it could lead to savings of several hundred pounds a day for clients involved in court hearings as they may no longer have to meet the cost of an accompanying solicitor, in addition to counsel’s fees.

The new ruling came into effect at the start of the new legal year on 24th September and brings the position in Scotland in line with that in England and Wales.

Damages Bill

Another Bill included in the 2013-14 legislative programme is the Damages Bill.

The Scottish government has expressed a commitment to reform the law of damages for personal injury and, in particular, the limiting factors in relation to making a claim and the time period within which a claim can be brought. In December 2012 the Government consulted on various aspects of damages for personal injury. The consultation’s outcome shaped the content of the Damages Bill. The provisions of the Bill include:

  • A provision to extend the time limit for bringing a claim for damages for personal injury. The current 3 year time bar period for personal injury claims is likely to be extended to 5 years.

  • A non-exhaustive list of factors for the court to consider when deciding whether to allow a case to be pursued after the claim has time barred.

  • A provision to allow the court at the conclusion of a case to order a periodical payment order, rather than a lump sum award of damages, without the consent of the parties. At present, both parties must agree to a periodical payment order being made.

Provision of specialist residential chronic pain services in Scotland

On 2 September, the Scottish government launched a consultation on the future provision of specialist intensive chronic pain management services for Scottish residents. The consultation seeks views on possible options for the provision of such services in Scotland. At present, Scotland does not have a specialist residential service, which means that Scottish residents who require specialist intensive pain management services have to travel to the Bath Centre for Pain Services in Somerset to receive these. The consultation sets out a number of options for the provision of a specialist service in Scotland. The consultation will close on 27th October 2013.

Chronic pain services – details of the consultation

Contact

For further information in relation to any of the above, please contact Catherine Hart, Professional Support Lawyer (Scotland) on 0141 228 8084

By Catherine Hart

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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