Scottish Court Reforms: where are we now?

This article provides an update on the Scottish Court reforms, including what changes are expected in September 2015, and beyond.

15 June 2015

Following our article earlier this year, the timetable for implementation of the court reforms set out in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 is now clearer and the changes are imminent.

Changes so far in 2015
Some changes have already occurred. The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service was established in April this year, taking over the responsibilities of the Scottish Court Service and the Scottish Tribunals Service. Also, a new Sheriff Appeal Court has been established, with Sheriff Mhairi Stephen QC appointed as President and Sheriff Principal Craig Scott QC as Vice President; and a new Scotland wide Personal Injury Court has been established.

Key changes from September 2015
Further important changes are to happen from September 2015:

  • The Sheriff Courts will have exclusive jurisdiction for claims of up to £100,000 (up from the present £5,000 value);
  • The new Sheriff Appeal Court will start holding criminal appeals;
  • The new Personal Injury Court will start operations  in Edinburgh (with Scotland wide jurisdiction); and
  • A new Judicial Review procedure will commence in the Court of Session with changed grounds for review, an initial sifting process and a three month time limit for raising proceedings.

Further changes later in 2015 / early 2016

  • The new Sheriff Appeal Court will start hearing civil appeals in January 2016;
  • Recruitment of Summary Sheriffs is expected to take place in autumn 2015, with the appointed Summary Sheriffs starting from Spring 2016 to deal with the new Sheriff Court simple procedure for low value claims;
  • A feasibility study will shortly be undertaken into the creation of an Energy and Natural Resources Court in the Court of Session, to provide a specialist forum for litigation in those fields; and
  • Provision is to be made for specialist Sheriffs to be appointed to deal with particular categories of cases, for example commercial cases.

Appeals (Part V and Part VI of the Act)
Court of Session to Supreme Court
The Act sets out new provisions for appeals from the Court of Session to the UK Supreme Court. It has been competent to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against certain judgements without requiring leave from the Inner House of the Court of Session. The only restriction has been that the appeal must be certified as “reasonable” by two members of the Faculty of Advocates, or solicitor advocates. The Act replaces this requirement for certification with a requirement instead for the permission of the Inner House or, failing such permission, the permission of the UK Supreme Court itself. This now aligns the position of Scottish courts with those of the courts in England and Wales in respect of appeals to the Supreme Court. This change is effective from September 2015.

Sheriff Appeal Court to the Court of Session
For appeals from the new Sheriff Appeal Court to the Court of Session, permission to appeal must be given by the Sheriff Appeal Court itself, or, if refused by that Court, by the Court of Session. Permission to appeal may only be granted if the appeal raises an important point of principle or practice or if there is a compelling reason for the Court of Session to hear the particular appeal.  It will still be competent to appeal direct from a decision of a Sheriff to the Court of Session, thus by-passing the Sheriff Appeal Court. It is likely that these changes will come into force from January 2016, when the Sheriff Appeal Court starts hearing civil appeals.

These changes, along with others planned for the future, are intended to create a modern and more efficient court structure and process in Scotland. They have been broadly welcomed. The increase of the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sheriff Courts to £100,000 has been the most contentious change. This is a large increase from the present £5,000 value, but is lower than the £150,000 value that was first proposed. However, the Scottish Government retains the right to alter the £100,000 value in future.