Following up on our e-update yesterday summarising the main recommendations of the report, probably the most major change proposed is that the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff court is increased, from its current limit of £5,000 to £150,000. That would mean that no actions worth less than £150,000 could be raised in the Court of Session.
Only back in January 2008, after much discussion, did the limit of the privative (or exclusive) jurisdiction of the sheriff court rise to £5,000 from the earlier limit of £1,500, which had been introduced as long ago as November 1988.
At the moment, the current system allows for a pursuer competently to raise an action for a value of, say, £5,100 in either the Court of Session to the sheriff court. This "fundamental weakness" in the system has created a number of inefficiencies, and in particular it is the view of the Review Board that the Court of Session is spending too much time dealing with actions that are low value and beneath the countenance of a supreme court.
The proposed solution is to ensure that cases are dealt with by a court at a level commensurate with the importance of the value at stake and that this can be achieved by the radical reallocation of jurisdiction. By increasing the limit to £150,000 there can be a major transfer of litigation from the Court of Session to the sheriff court leaving the time of Court of Session judges to be deployed to better effect on major litigations.
Furthermore, if the threshold is set at a high level this reduces the chance of abuse by parties who sue for a figure just above the threshold which bears no relationship to the actual value of the claim. A limit of any less than £150,000 is considered not adequate to remove the status quo of only lowest value cases being heard in the sheriff court.
Although the Review accepts that there is no necessary relationship between the value and the complexity of an action, a monetary threshold is the simplest mechanism to administer and apply. Consequently, the legislation governing the remit of a case from the sheriff court to the Court of Session would also have to be amended to enable actions below the privative limit to be remitted to the Court of Session in exceptional cases only. The introduction of an increase in the privative jurisdiction has not been recommended in isolation but, rather, is coupled with the need for specialist sheriffs to accommodate the higher value claims and the introduction of an active case management system. Both of these recommendations will be the subject of separate e-updates at the beginning of next week.