Lord President sets out timetable for civil court reforms

28 Jan

Changes to the civil justice system under the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 will start this summer, Lord Gill, the Lord President, has announced.

Lord Gill said that the process of appointing summary sheriffs will be put in hand in July, and a number of key reforms will take effect in September, at the start of the new legal year.

Those key reforms include a Scotland-wide personal injury court in Edinburgh, extension of the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff court to actions with a value up to £100,000, a Sheriff Appeal Court, and the introduction of "the permission stage" to judicial review proceedings.

Lord Gill stated: "(The Act) is the single most important piece of legislation in the field of civil justice for over a century...The whole purpose of these reforms is to maximise the efficiency and the output of the courts...The new regime is logical and rational. It is long overdue. I am confident that the legal profession will adapt to it and contribute to its success."

He added: "At sheriff court level solicitors will have the opportunity to deal with claims of significant value and to exercise skilled advocacy in cases that in former days would have been litigated in the higher courts. But litigants should have a choice of representation; and therefore should have also access to the services of the Bar.

"There will be many important and complex sheriff court litigations where the services of counsel should be available to either side. Whether at first instance or in the Sheriff Appeal Court, section 108 of the 2014 Act imposes a positive duty on the court to sanction the employment of counsel if it considers that in all the circumstances it is reasonable to do so.

"In making that judgment the court must have particular regard to the difficulty or complexity, or the likely difficulty or complexity, of the proceedings; the importance or value of any claim in the proceedings; and the desirability of ensuring that no party gains an unfair advantage by virtue of the employment of counsel. The court may also have regard to such other matters as it considers appropriate. This provision reflects the expectation underlying the Report of the Civil Courts Review that counsel would have a real and meaningful role in the work of the sheriff court in its expanded jurisdiction."

Commenting on the announcement, James Wolffe, QC, Dean of Faculty, said: "I welcome the Lord President's vision of a civil court system responsive to the needs of litigants which harnesses technology to serve the ends of justice. In making that vision a reality, the legal profession - both advocates and solicitors - will have a key role to play. It is now time to put controversy behind us and to get on with the job of making justice work for all the people of Scotland. The Faculty of Advocates - Scotland's national Bar - stands ready for that task.

"The civil justice system matters. An efficient and effective court system, along with a skilled and independent legal profession, underpins and guarantees a just and economically successful society. The Lord President's announcement that he intends to carry out a feasibility study on the creation of an Energy and Natural Resources Court in the Court of Session - a proposal which I support - should send a powerful signal that the Scottish courts, along with Scotland's highly skilled legal profession, mean business.

"In keeping with his vision of an open and accessible justice system - a vision which I share - the Lord President has also made an important announcement about televising the Courts. While there must be safeguards to protect the interests of justice, public understanding of the work of the courts - which is fundamental to our democracy - will be enhanced by these proposals, and I welcome them."

The Lord President's announcement can be viewed at http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/Upload/Documents/LPHolyroodDigitalJusticeConferencespeech28January2015.pdf