Part three of our series of e-updates on court reform addresses the establishment of a new Sheriff Appeal Court.
At present appeals from the Sheriff Court in civil cases can be made either to the Sheriff Principal or direct to the Inner House of the Court of Session. The choice is largely down to the parties. The Bill sets up a new Sheriff Appeal Court which is intended to hear the vast majority of appeals from Sheriff Courts.
Rights of appeal
The Bill makes three keys changes to rights of appeal in civil cases:
1) The right to appeal the decision of a Sheriff to the Inner House of the Court of Session has, in most cases, been repealed. Appeals must be made to the Sheriff Appeal Court in the first instance.
2) Appeals may be remitted from the Sheriff Appeal Court to the Court of Session only if the Sheriff Appeal Court is satisfied that the appeal raises a complex or novel point of law.
3) The decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court may only be appealed with permission from the Sheriff Appeal Court or Court of Session and only if the matter raises an important point of principle or practice or there is some other compelling reason for the Court of Session to hear the appeal.
The form and jurisdiction of the Sheriff Appeal Court
Given the restriction of rights of appeal to the Court of Session a number of steps have been taken to address some anomalous characteristics of appeals to the Sheriff Principal.
The Sheriff Principal sits alone and their decision is only binding within their Sheriffdom. This creates the risk that the law could be interpreted differently in different parts of Scotland by different Sheriffs Principal. The Sheriff Appeal Court will have jurisdiction across Scotland removing the risk of differing interpretations of the law between different Sheriffdoms.
The Sheriff Appeal Court will also take the form of a more traditional appeal court, being made up of a number of Appeal Sheriffs who can sit alone or with others to deal with matters of particular complexity or when a case involves the review of a previous decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court.
The changes to appeals from the Sheriff Court are in line with the aim of the court reforms to reduce the caseload of the Court of Session. This is viewed as a means to increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of the court systems in Scotland by ensuring cases are dealt with at the appropriate level but it is not without issue.
The reforms create the prospect that Scotland will effectively operate two almost entirely separate court systems for civil matters. The appeal reforms, together with the increase in privative jurisdiction to £100,000, mean that the vast majority of litigants in Scotland will no longer have the right to have their cases heard before the most senior civil courts in Scotland.
The Bill seeks to address these issues by giving discretion to the courts to allow appeals to be heard by the Court of Session in certain circumstances. The outcome of the reforms will, therefore, depend heavily on the interpretation of those provisions in practice.