PLANNED changes to the civil court system will be a “train wreck”, will not deliver the estimated savings, and will only benefit the insurance industry, MSPs have heard.
Personal injury lawyers said claims the courts reform bill will improve the Scottish justice system was “an Orwellian use of language”.
The Scottish Government plans to move the bulk of civil cases to sheriff courts by raising the threshold at which they go to the Court of Session from £5,000 to £150,000.
At the same time, the government is closing 17 courts across Scotland in the hope of saving £3 million upfront and £1m a year afterwards.
The Faculty of Advocates, Law Society of Scotland and organisations such as Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) have all warned against the move.
Ronnie Conway, Scottish coordinator for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, yesterday told the justice committee the proposals would exacerbate problems already faced by the creaking sheriff court system.
He said: “The system is in crisis. What you are being asked to approve will turn it into a train wreck. I don’t apologise for the apocalyptic language – that’s what will happen.”
He added: “To try and dress this up as an improvement in civil justice is an Orwellian use of language.”
He was also critical of plans for a specialist personal insurance court.
“What you’ve been asked to vote for is a court that is seriously underfunded. There’s no new resources here – all you have is pieces being moved about the chessboard,” Mr Conway said.
“The insurers are sniffing blood. The big winner in all this is the insurance industry so I am not going to back down on this.
“You will see again and again sanction for counsel being opposed.”
The bill, based in part on recommendations by Lord Gill, Lord President of the Court of Session, are designed to make the Scottish justice system more affordable.
Audit Scotland estimated that the inefficient and outdated justice system wastes £55m a year.
However, Mr Conway said insurance companies, and not the public purse, would save money.
He added: “The savings to the legal aid fund of £1.2m are completely illusory. It appears that the public purse will save £1.2m. It’s complete nonsense – 85 per cent of legal aid cases are successful and paid for by the defender.”
Alan Rogerson, of the Forum of Scottish Claims Managers, defended the industry. He told the committee: “Insurers want cases settled and the rightful payment made to people. They don’t want to end up in litigation any more than the injured party wants to.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The sheriff courts are well placed to handle the transfer of business as the total cases coming out of the Court of Session is only around 3 per cent of the civil caseload in the sheriff courts.
“Statistics released on Monday show that the number of civil cases being heard at sheriff court level has been declining.”