The Scottish Civil Justice Council ('SCJC') are seeking views on whether the compulsory use of Civil Online for Simple Procedure claims should be permanent.
Simple Procedure was introduced by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. It must be used for the majority of actions which have a total value of £5,000 or less. The Act of Sederunt (Simple Procedure Amendment) (Civil Online) 2020, which came into force on the 1 December 2020, made it mandatory, save for one exception, to lodge Simple Procedure Claim Forms electronically. The 2020 Act of Sederunt ceases to have effect on 30 September 2021. The SCJC are examining whether the provisions should remain in force beyond this date.
Procedure prior to 1 December 2020
The rules governing Simple Procedure are contained within the Act of Sederunt (Simple Procedure) 2016. A Simple Procedure action is commenced by 'sending' a Claim Form to the appropriate Sheriff Court. Prior to 1 December 2020, a Claim Form could be 'sent' to the court by personally handing it in, by recorded delivery post or by using the Civil Online portal on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Services' ('SCTS') website.
Act of Sederunt (Simple Procedure Amendment) (Civil Online) 2020
In June 2020, the SCTS lodged an urgent rules request seeking to make the use of Civil Online mandatory for Simple Procedure cases as part of their COVID business recovery plans. After consideration by the SCJC, the Act of Sederunt (Simple Procedure Amendment) (Civil Online) 2020 came into force on 1 December 2020.
The 2020 Act of Sederunt made a time-limited amendment to the Simple Procedure rules requiring a Claim Form to be 'sent' to the court electronically using the Civil Online portal. Professional claim firms can take advantage of SCTS's separate computing interface to lodge claims electronically in bulk. A Claim Form can only be lodged in hard copy if it is accompanied by a note explaining why it could not be lodged electronically and the sheriff is persuaded that electronic lodging could not have been used. If the note is accepted, a Claim Form can be personally handed to the court or posted by recorded delivery.
The provisions of the 2020 Act of Sederunt cease to have effect on 30 September 2021. Therefore, without further amendment of the rules, the use of Civil Online or the SCTS' computing interface will cease to be mandatory. The SCJC are seeking responses to a questionnaire about compulsory electronic lodging.
Mandatory use of Civil Online for Claim Forms has prompted a swift culture change. Usage is now commonplace for most law firms handling Simple Procedure claims. While Response Forms can be lodged by recorded delivery, they are usually submitted electronically. As a result, Simple Procedure actions are often completed entirely digitally, significantly reducing paper-usage.
Civil Online provides a streamlined service, enabling shorter case lifecycles. Frequently, Claim Forms are registered, with a timetable for service issued, on the same day that they are submitted. Compared to the previous system of lodging hard copies, evidence management is also more efficient using Civil Online: Lists of Evidence and Document bundles can be quickly prepared and lodged electronically.
Civil Online has likely reduced the SCTS' administrative burden because it is updated regularly and can be checked at any time. Users have easy access to court orders and any documents lodged by another party. If, for example, an application to pause is submitted a few days before a case is due to call, Civil Online will be updated to confirm whether the hearing has been discharged. This avoids parties contacting the court for updates.
The results of the questionnaire may highlight disadvantages experienced by certain parties because of the procedural changes. Experiences of lodging a hard copy Claim Form with an explanatory note will likely be closely examined.
We encourage all parties who have submitted documents electronically to respond to the questionnaire. Some small improvements may be necessary but, in general, it appears that mandatory electronic lodging has positively impacted the operation of Simple Procedure claims.