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Scotland set to reform civil courts

Reform to Scotland’s civil courts is expected to be passed by MSPs, despite concerns changes may restrict access to justice.

Members are debating the Court Reform (Scotland) Bill today as it passes through the final stage of parliamentary scrutiny.

The reforms will see the Court of Session, Scotland’s top civil court, freed up to deal with only the most serious or complex cases with an increase in the number of cases heard by sheriff courts. Ministers had already increased the financial threshold for sheriffs hearing cases from £5,000 to £150,000, this was later scaled back to £100,000 following concerns it had been set too high.

The bill also includes measures to create a new court for personal injury claims and introduce “summary sheriffs” to deal with less serious cases, as well as a court to hear appeals on the decisions of sheriffs. It would also allow some cases to be heard by sheriffs with specialist knowledge in certain areas, such as family, housing and commercial law.

Opposition parties in Scotland have given support to the bill in principle but have asked for assurances that the correct resources have been put in place.

Ministers said they believed there was sufficient capacity in the sheriff courts to deal with an expected transfer of around 2,700 cases from the Court of Session.

However, the Faculty of Advocates said the bill would make it difficult for people bringing personal injury claims to benefit from the representation which advocates currently provided in the Court of Session.

The BBC is also reporting that the Law Society of Scotland has raised concern over the move to introduce a three-month time limit for bringing judicial review applications. The organisation said it could “significantly reduce access to justice” because of the difficulty community groups and others faced in securing funding within the time period.

(Image: c. Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

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