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Civil court reforms in Scotland - what's changing?

Following a review of the civil justice system by Lord Gill, The Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 (the Act) comes into force on 22 September 2015. This legislation is being brought in to improve the way civil justice is administered.

It is hoped that the reforms will meet the aims of addressing the existing inefficiencies and bring about a cost efficient, effective and accessible civil justice system.

We set out below of some of the upcoming changes and how they will impact court proceedings.

What are the key changes?

  • A new exclusive right in all Sheriff Courts to hear cases up to the value of £100,000. This means that cases of £100,000 or less can no longer be raised in the Court of Session (the Scottish equivalent to the High Court).
  • New simple procedure replacing current small claim and summary cause procedures in Sheriff Courts. 
  • Creation of a new judicial tier to hear matters under the simple procedure. 
  • The introduction of an All of Scotland jurisdiction.
  • Actions involving reduction of documents or deeds can now be heard in Sheriff Courts.
  • The introduction of a new Sheriff Appeal Court. 

Jurisdiction of Sheriff Courts

Currently, the Sheriff Court has exclusive jurisdiction to hear claims up to the value of £5,000 and concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Session to hear claims for more than £5,000. From 22 September, the Sheriff Court’s exclusive jurisdiction will be increased to £100,000. 

Claims for over £100,000 can be dealt with in either the Sheriff Court or the Court of Session. This should decrease the workload of the Court of Session and restrict its jurisdiction to more complex and higher value claims.

The Act also creates a new judicial tier in the form of ‘summary sheriffs’, who will hear matters under the simple procedure, resulting in more sheriffs being available.

New 'simple procedure'

The simple procedure will replace the current small claims and summary cause procedures.  

The new procedure has been established to allow the court to take an interventionist approach in cases. The sheriff is empowered to identify the issues in dispute, negotiate with the parties or otherwise help them to reach settlement - adopting an approach which is appropriate to the circumstances of each case.  

Claims of £5,000 or less will be dealt with under the jurisdiction of the simple procedure. This includes claims where the pursuer asks for some positive action on behalf of the defender but includes an alternative claim for a sum of money. 

The simple procedure will not apply to repossession of heritable property claims. These cases will continue to be dealt with under the current summary application procedure. 

All of Scotland jurisdiction

The Act establishes an All of Scotland Sheriff Court jurisdiction.  

This permits the Scottish Ministers to make an order which extends a sheriff’s jurisdiction territorially throughout Scotland, for the purposes of dealing with specified civil proceedings. If court proceedings are to be brought before an All of Scotland Sheriff appointed by Scottish Ministers then this will have to be specified at the time the proceedings are brought. Failure to do this is likely to result in the proceedings falling within the ordinary local jurisdiction of the Sheriff.

The All of Scotland jurisdiction is the sole route to a civil jury trial in the Sheriff Court. The 2014 Act provides a list of actions that would qualify for a civil jury trial, which includes an action for reduction (of a document) on the ground of incapacity, essential error or force and fear.  

Reduction

Previously an action of reduction could only be heard in the Court of Session. The new legislation provides that a sheriff can deal with proceedings in relation to reduction, other than reduction of a decree of any court. The Court of Session will retain its exclusive jurisdiction to reduce any decree granted by a Scottish court. But, if the matter at issue is not a decree, then an action seeking reduction will be competent in the Sheriff Court.

Appeals

Currently, civil appeals from a sheriff under the ordinary cause procedure can go to the Sheriff Principal and then the Inner House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, or they can be remitted directly to the Inner House of the Court of Session. Thereafter an appeal can be made to the UK Supreme Court.

The Act introduces a new Sheriff Appeal Court which will hear all appeals from the Sheriff Court. The Court will begin to hear civil appeals from January 2016.  

Decisions of the Sheriff Appeal Court will be binding on all sheriffs, in contrast to the current position where Sheriff Principals’ decisions are only binding on the sheriffs sitting in that sheriffdom.

For more information on how the changes will affect you please contact Tom McEntegart on +44 (0)333 006 0910 or tom.mcentegart@TLTsolicitors.com.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at September 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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