September 2015 saw the greatest restructuring of the civil justice system in Scotland for a generation. It was then that many of the recommendations of the Taylor Review, tasked with reviewing a system that had remained unchanged for many years, came into effect with the implementation of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014.
This resulted in a material transfer of business from the Court of Session to Scotland’s sheriff courts as a result of the introduction of the £100,000 minimum threshold for bringing actions in the Court of Session.
Other changes were also implemented. A new specialised personal injury sheriff court with a jurisdictional reach extending to all of Scotland was established and the Sheriff Appeal Court was born (with jurisdiction to hear appeals from sheriff courts nationwide). This latter reform also removed a litigant’s right to appeal the decision of a sheriff directly to the Inner House of the Court of Session (which may now only follow on a decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court) and removed a great deal of business from individual sheriff courts.
With the recent publication of the Scottish Government’s Civil Justice Statistics 2016-17, it is interesting to measure the impact of the various reforms. The figures show that 73,640 civil law cases were initiated across the Court of Session, sheriff courts and the Sheriff Personal Injury Court in 2016-17 (excluding summary applications). This is a drop of 5% from the previous year but represents a decrease of 44% since the beginning of the statistical time series in 2008-09. The number of cases initiated in 2016-17 is the lowest since 2008-09.
The numbers for Court of Session actions show the clearest impact of the changes. Compared to the previous year, the number of cases initiated in the Court of Session almost halved. This overall decrease was driven by a 74% decrease in the number of personal injury cases initiated in the Court of Session as a consequence of the establishment of the Sheriff Personal Injury Court. The Sheriff Appeal Court has seen almost 300 cases initiated and it has disposed of 169.
The intended redistribution of court business has undoubtedly worked.
Cases relating to debt continue to occupy the lion’s share of the courts’ time, comprising 42% of all civil court cases initiated in 2016-17, with evictions, family and personal injury occupying second, third and fourth places respectively.