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Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill: Scottish Parliament Justice Committee Consultation

The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament is currently carrying out an enquiry to consider and report on the draft Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced into Parliament on 6th February this year.  The Bill’s provisions are intended to implement recommendations of the Report on the Scottish Civil Courts Review (2009), led by Lord Gill.  The measures are designed to make the Scottish court system more efficient and less expensive. The Committee sought views on the far reaching changes which will be implemented by the Bill and received written responses from a range of organisations, including a number of Advocates’ stables, the Law Society of Scotland and FOIL. The committee’s first evidence session was held on 18th March.

A number of concerns have been expressed about the likely effects of the reforms which the Bill is to introduce. In particular, several interested parties have highlighted concerns about the proposal to an increase in exclusive competence of the sheriff courts from the current level of £5,000 to £150,000. Advocates (barristers) have argued that this will have a “discriminatory” effect as it would lead to a great deal of the business currently conducted in the Court of Session being dealt with instead in the sheriff courts. It has been suggested that the increased figure of £150,000 is far too high and that the increase in the threshold would deprive most litigants of access to the specialist representation that advocates can provide. The possibility that the increase in the threshold will effectively bring an end to the Court of Session dealing with most personal injury actions has been highlighted as a particular concern. Litigants in Scotland have always had the right to bring a claim in the Court of Session, which includes automatic sanction for the employment of Counsel. It has been suggested by those concerned about the increase in exclusive competence that, by increasing the threshold, this right will be reserved for only a small number of cases. The Society of Solicitor Advocates has also expressed similar concerns about the increase in the Sheriff Court’s exclusive jurisdiction. 

The Justice Committee intends to take further oral evidence at meetings in April. The Bill is currently at stage 1 of the legislative procedure and, after it has been scrutinised by the Justice Committee, the Committee will produce a report to Parliament looking at the Bill in the round.  It remains to be seen whether the Committee makes any recommendations to reduce the proposed £150,000 limit for the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff court in light of the submissions received.

Having proceeded through the Scottish Parliament, it is anticipated that the Bill will be enacted by the end of 2014, with implementation of the reforms taking place on a phased basis from the autumn of 2015.

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.