The recently published government report shows interesting trends affecting the civil justice system in Scotland. After a sudden spike in 2018, the number of court actions raised in the Scottish courts has once again been in decline. This is in line with the descending trend in court business levels over the last ten years. It remains to be seen what impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on these numbers as businesses and individuals begin to adjust to the new normal.

The court reforms initiated in 2014-15 continue to exert influence on the changing landscape of the Scottish court system. This is particularly visible in the redistribution of cases between the Court of Session and the sheriff courts. Since 2015, cases initiated in the Court of Session decreased by 48%. Further changes include the specialised Sheriff Personal Injury Court, now in charge of 40% of all personal injury cases in Scotland.

Court actions and procedure – some numbers

Across the Court of Session and Sheriff Courts in 2018-19, 72,100 civil law cases were initiated, a decrease of 11% from 2017-18. The main reason for the change is attributed to the decreasing amount of debt and eviction actions, down 20% and 15% respectively. In 2018-19, 66,241 cases were initiated in the sheriff courts, which represents a 12% decrease on the previous year. Interestingly, the decrease did not affect all procedures, and the numbers of ordinary cause actions increased by 1%. There was also a significant drop in simple procedure actions, with a 19% decrease from 2017-18. Debt actions remain most common, constituting as much as 40% of all civil court cases. Family and eviction actions rank second and third, at 18% and 17% respectively.

Covid-19 and looking ahead

Generally, it is anticipated that solicitors being permitted to offer clients damages based agreements for the first time from 27 April this year, and the expected introduction of group proceedings (class actions) in the near future, might result in an increase in the number of cases. It is hard to predict with certainty what impact the current pandemic will have on future litigation. What can be tentatively said at this stage, is that with most courts currently still prioritising the narrowly defined essential cases, a backlog of court business has built up. However, some progress has been made by the courts in the last few weeks. As courts and solicitors embrace novel ways of dealing with cases, such as "remote hearings" and increased use of electronic documents, at least there have been attempts to keep some business moving through the civil courts. The query here is if we should ever go back to the way it was pre-Covid.

How Brodies can help?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Brodies is continuing to offer clients immediate access to ongoing legal advice. With the necessary infrastructure and strategies firmly in place to allow the entire Brodies team to work remotely - including court appearances, our lawyers have been able to provide clients with the usual efficient and quick service.


Jan Kapaon