Monday, September 24, 2007

A move for many cases from the Court of Session to the Sheriff Courts looks on the cards as Lord Gill makes his recommendations in some long needed reforms to the Scottish Courts system.

The Herald reports :

Bid to give all first hearings to sheriffs

Exclusive by LUCY ADAMS, Chief Reporter

Almost all civil cases in Scotland, including the most complex and expensive divorce proceedings, could be transferred to the sheriff courts under recommendations being drawn-up by Lord Gill, the Lord Justice Clerk.

Currently, the Court of Session, which sits in Parliament House in Edinburgh, is the supreme civil court and is used as a court of first instance for complex commercial cases, divorce and more serious reparation cases. However, under a radical shake-up of the courts, Lord Gill, Scotland's second most senior judge, is considering making the court solely for appeals.

He is understood to have commissioned a paper on how civil cases could be moved to the sheriff courts to free-up the time of more senior judges. This paper will be used as part of an ongoing consultation process during his two-year review of the system.

The proposals, still under consideration, are expected to have constitutional ramifications as the Court of Session's role is detailed in the 1707 Act of Union.

The review is aimed at making sure that cases are dealt with at the right level of the court system, assessing how civil cases are handled and the time it takes to resolve them. The idea is expected to meet with widespread opposition from those who can afford and choose to take expensive divorce proceedings and accident claims to the Court of Session.

One advocate said: "The courts are under a great deal of pressure, there is a backlog of cases in the appeal court and this would help to free up judges' time."

Civil cases take up a huge amount of court time. Last year, around 125,000 civil cases were raised in the sheriff court alone.

If the bulk of civil cases were transferred to the sheriff court, it would reduce the amount of work for advocates specialising in civil cases.

Robert Black, professor of law at Edinburgh University, is in favour of the proposal.

"The idea that the Court of Session should concentrate on appellant work is something I would agree with," he said. "I am not, however, sure that all cases should be transferred to the sheriff court. Judicial review cases, for example, which hold public bodies to account, should still be heard in the Court of Session."

Janyce Scott, QC, who specialises in family law cases, said the move could be problematic. "It might, for example, be a case where there's a lot of money concerned and the people involved are figures in public life. Some of my clients would feel uncomfortable in the sheriff court.

"Some sheriff courts are tiny and I can't see how their timetabling would cope with cases which are usually set down in blocks of four days in the Court of Session."

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