Major reforms to the Scottish civil justice system passed by the Scottish parliament
Devotees will recall that we published an update in February of this year when the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill was made public by the Scottish Government. The Bill has now been debated and was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 7 October 2014.
The Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill was a result of the work undertaken by Lord Gill, and others, during the Scottish Civil Courts Review (the ‘SCCR’) from 2007 to 2009. The Report of the SCCR was published in 2009 and the Scottish Government accepted the vast majority of the report’s recommendations. The Bill sought to implement many of these reforms.
The Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014
After making its way through the Scottish Parliament, the Bill was debated and passed unanimously by the parliament yesterday afternoon.
The headline reforms which the Act introduces include:
- Increasing the privative jurisdiction of the Sheriff Courts from £5,000 to £100,000. This means any cases for values under £100,000 must be raised in the Sheriff Courts. The Act does contain provisions allowing for cases to be remitted, in either direction, between the Sheriff Court and the Court of Session. The Bill initially sought to have the limit extended to £150,000.
- Allowing interdicts to be enforceable outwith the Sheriffdom that granted the interdict.
- The creation of the post of Summary Sheriff. This new level of the judiciary will hear low value civil cases as well as summary criminal matters.
- Provisions to create specialist Sheriffs, and Summary Sheriffs, in areas designated by the Lord President.
- The creation of a Sheriff Appeal Court. This new body will be staffed with Appeal Sheriffs made up of the Sheriffs Principal from the six Sheriffdoms in Scotland. The Lord President may also appoint Sheriffs as Appeal Sheriffs. The Sheriff Appeal Court will be able to sit at any Sheriff Court in Scotland.
- The introduction of a new ‘Simple Procedure’ for actions of £5,000 or less. This new procedure will replace the existing Small Claims and Summary Cause procedures.
- A new three-month time limit for bringing judicial reviews in the Court of Session.
- New procedures for bringing appeals to the Inner House of the Court of Session, and for some appeals to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. A single Inner House judge may now grant leave to appeal, and some appeals to the UK Supreme Court will require the permission of the Inner House, or the Supreme Court if permission is refused by the Inner House.
The contents of the Act are substantially similar to the Bill. The reforms which are proposed will bring about substantial changes to the Scottish civil justice system and the impact of these changes must be considered very carefully. Assessing the success of these reforms will very much be a matter of ‘wait and see’.
The majority of the provisions of the Act will be introduced by way of amendment to the court rules. We will provide further updates as and when different parts of the Act come into force.
We will also be publishing further updates focusing on specific headline reforms in further detail. Watch this space!