Monday, September 08, 2008

MacAskill to draft in judges to curtail Scots access to justice on controversial compensation claims

Ever worried that the public might start suing more for compensation, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has decided to appoint a few lawyers as Judges to ‘weed out’ as he claims, “frivolous compensation claims” which are allegedly clogging up Scotland’s civil courts.

Oh yes, that would also include any claims against solicitors, we suspect … but what is really happening is an exercise in restricting the public’s access to justice … and the Law Society are happy, as they have been reputedly promised all cases of claims against their members will be ‘weeded out’ too …

The Times reports :

Judges target frivolous compensation bids

Fast-track system will aim to end logjam of cases and save thousands of pounds

By Stuart MacDonald

Judges are to be appointed to vet frivolous compensation claims which are clogging up Scotland’s civil courts.

The government is to introduce the new procedure to fast track claims that, at present, have to go through a procedural hearing before they can be rejected, a process that takes up to nine months to complete, costing as much as £4,000 in legal fees.

Under the system, specialist judges would be used to free up court time and save thousands of pounds in costs.

Recent actions include a woman who sued the owner of a black labrador for £160,000 after the dog ran into her and injured her knee and a 16-year-old who failed to show up for a job interview and sued the firm for not giving him directions to the office. Both were dismissed.

Other unsuccessful claims included a man who wanted to sue the American rock band Bon Jovi for allegedly damaging his hearing at a concert in Glasgow and a man who wanted to sue his wife’s lover for emotional distress.

Over the past decade, personal injury claims being raised each year in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, have soared by more than 35% to about 2,500. About 125,00 civil actions are lodged in the sheriff courts every year.

The new system, proposed as part of a wide-ranging review into civil courts being conducted by Lord Gill, the lord justice clerk and Scotland’s second most senior judge, would allow the defender to apply for a summary disposal to have the case struck out by a judge within weeks of it being lodged.

The proposal has the backing of senior figures in the legal establishment including the Judges’ Council, the Faculty of Advocates and the Glasgow Bar Association. “We need to free up as much court time as possible to deal with serious cases, and Lord Gill’s suggestions to weed out what are clearly frivolous claims can only be a good thing,” said a Scottish government source.

Cameron Fyfe, one of Scotland’s leading litigation lawyers, said the vetting system, similar to that used in criminal appeals, would help. “The content of a court action could be virtually anything and it’s only at a much later stage that the defender has the chance to have it thrown out of court,” said Fyfe. “You can’t stop somebody raising a court action and I think that’s a flaw in our legal system.”

However, Douglas Russell, a partner at Edinburgh law firm Simpson & Marwick, said there was a danger cases brought by people acting for themselves could be wrongly dismissed. “The difficulty is that a lot of party litigants usually have the vestiges of a case, but they dress it up all wrong. I certainly wouldn’t be in favour of absolute summary justice at a very early stage,” he said.

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