The spiralling number of personal injury cases in Scotland’s courts are “clogging up the system” and must be tackled, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has warned.
There were 8,700 claims in Scotland last year, spanning road traffic collisions, accidents at work and medical negligence.
Specialist claims lawyers have warned proposals to overhaul the way civil claims are handled could result in the “complete collapse of the new system”.
But Mr MacAskill will press ahead with change. He said: “We need to reform Scotland’s courts and in particular ensure that the right cases are heard in the right courts, at the right time.”
The proposed Courts Reform Bill will see the threshold for claims in the Court of Session raised from £5,000 to £150,000, with the creation of a new national specialist personal injury court, presided over by sheriffs, which will speed up the system.
Mr MacAskill added: “At present too many cases, particularly lower-value personal injury cases, are being raised in the Court of Session – clogging up the system and resulting in higher costs and delays for the parties involved.”
There was a rise of 11 per cent in injury claims in 2012-13 and they accounted for 79 per cent of cases raised in Scotland’s highest civil court, the Court of Session.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil) say the £150,000 threshold will “effectively end” the role of the Court of Session in hearing personal injury cases.
In a submission to Holyrood’s justice committee, Apil states: “This would be a critical change, affecting thousands of vulnerable injured people, yet it appears that many of the assumptions on which this change is proposed are at best vague and at worst misleading.
“There are to be no extra sheriffs to deal with the influx of cases in a system which Apil members report is already creaking at the seams and in desperate need of proper modernisation. “The idea that a system already creaking can seamlessly accommodate nearly 3,000 additional cases is hopelessly optimistic. The proposition could very well result in the complete collapse of the new system.”
The civil court statistics show a 45 per cent fall in the number of debt cases raised in Scotland’s courts in the four years between 2008-9 and 2012-13 – down by almost half.
There has also been a 47 per cent decrease in repossession and eviction cases raised in the same period.
Housing minister Margaret Burgess said: “The Scottish Government continues to take action where it can and has introduced measures to help those people in Scotland who are struggling under the burden of debt.
“The introduction of the Home Owners and Debtors Protection Act in 2010 has strengthened the protection for homeowners.
“The current fall in repossession cases raised in the courts across Scotland is in line with the aims of the legislation.”