COVID-19: Impact on Scottish Courts and Tribunals

It is unlikely that there is a living soul in the country and beyond that has not been impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Despite these difficult times, the country’s essential services continue to be operational. Across the UK, the justice system has been designated as an essential service which is to continue (where possible) its business. In Scotland, both civil and criminal courts remain open, though their capacity and workload have been heavily curtailed.

MacRoberts is monitoring the position closely as we are aware that many clients would be affected by these changes. Below is an outline of the guidance issued by the different Scottish Courts.

MacRoberts remain ready to advise on these and other matters. The information below will be regularly updated as new developments arise.

If you wish to discuss any of the information below in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Commercial Dispute Resolution team. 

Court of Session
  • At present the applicable guidance is the Court’s note of 25 March 2020.
  • The Court is only dealing with essential business which includes: child abduction petitions and application for interim interdict. No other hearings would be scheduled or take place.
  • The Court would deal with other type of business only if the Court could be satisfied of its urgent nature.
  • New court actions can be raised though they are unlikely to proceed any further than the registration phase. Court actions which require urgent registration and service would likely be prioritised.
  • Urgent appeals to the appeal court (the Inner House) would be considered and processed.
  • All documents can be lodged electronically (with scanned signatures were appropriate). Lodging of documents should continue but the same would not be processed.
  • This regime remains in force until 20 April 2020 unless extended.
Sheriff Appeal Court (Civil Business)
  • At present the applicable guidance is the Court’s note of 25 March 2020.
  • No hearings will take place until further notice. Hearings previously set down have been postponed.
  • Urgent matters might be allowed to proceed only with the consent of the Appeal Sheriffs.
  • All documents can be lodged electronically (there is no requirement for a signature).
  • The guidance is in force until further notice.
All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court
  • At present the applicable guidance is the Court’s note of 24 March 2020.
  • The Court will only deal with urgent business as determined by the Court.
  • No substantive hearings will take place between now and 19 June 2020. Hearings previously set down have been cancelled administratively. Where urgent business requires it, a hearting might be accommodated by phone and/or written submissions.
  • All documents can be lodged electronically (with scanned signatures were appropriate). Lodging of documents should continue only where a previous court (prior the outbreak) order requires this.
  • The guidance is in force until further notice.
Sheriff Courts – Civil Business
  • There is little consolidated guidance applicable to all Sheriff Courts. Separate courts have adopted practice notes covering the position.
  • A number of Sheriff Courts have been closed. Business from the closed courts has been directed to “hub” courts as follows:
    • Glasgow Sheriff and JP Court
    • Edinburgh Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Livingston, Selkirk & Jedburgh)
    • Dundee Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Forfar and Perth)
    • Falkirk Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Stirling, Alloa, Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy)
    • Inverness Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Elgin, Fort William, Tain, Wick and the Island Courts - except Lerwick). Island custody courts will be dealt with on a case by case basis.
    • Aberdeen Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Peterhead, Banff and Lerwick)
    • Paisley Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Greenock and Dumbarton)
    • Kilmarnock Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Dunoon, Oban and Campbeltown)
    • Hamilton Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring Airdrie, Lanark and Ayr)
    • Dumfries Sheriff and JP Court (business transferring from Stranraer)
  • In general, civil business has been suspended unless it is truly urgent. A designated Sheriff will assess the urgency of the matter in chambers. Any following hearing would be by written submissions and/or by telephone. 
  • Urgent business with which the Court would deal includes: lodging of caveats, applications for child protection orders, applications for interim interdict and applications in relation to adults with incapacity.
  • Generally, no substantive hearings will take place until at least August 2020. Simple procedure cases would be paused automatically for a period of four to six months (depending on the Sheriff Court).
  • Certain Sheriff Courts will continue to deal with procedural and debate hearings either by telephone or by way of written submissions.
  • Court actions which require urgent registration and service would likely be processed. Registration of other new actions is unlikely to continue.
  • Guidance specific to the relevant Sheriff Court should be considered.
Lands Tribunal for Scotland
  • At present the applicable guidance is the Tribunal’s announcement of 26 March 2020.
  • No hearings will take place.
  • Under the Tribunal’s discretion, certain cases capable of resolving through written submissions, will continue to take place.
  • The Tribunal will accept electronic submission of documents by email.
  • The guidance is in force until further notice.
Criminal Business
  • For the High Court of Justiciary and the Sheriff Appeal Court (Criminal Business), the applicable guidance is the Court’s note of 25 March 2020 (hyperlink to Document 3). The guidance is in force until 17 April 2020 unless extended.
  • Generally, business in these courts will be restricted to interim liberation appeals (i.e. custody cases). Other hearings, where parties agree, might proceed by way of written submissions. All documents can be lodged electronically (with scanned signatures were appropriate).
  • For the Sheriff Court (Criminal Business) and the Justice of the Peace Court, the general guidance is the Court’s announcement from 25 March 2020
  • In short, all criminal court business will be adjourned or continued administratively except for: (i) cases where the accused is in custody (ii) appearances from undertakings and (iii) emergency civil applications.
  • All cases where the accused is in custody and all emergency civil applications will be consolidated within Sheriffdoms, into ten “hub” Sheriff Courts, as detailed above.
  • Practice notes and other guidance issued by the individual Sheriff Courts on criminal business should be consulted.

This article was co-written by Martin Kotsev.

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