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Top QC warns court reform will damage Scots law

James Wolffe: Evolution of Scots law depends on country's highest court hearing a number of cases. Picture: Greg Macvean

James Wolffe: Evolution of Scots law depends on country's highest court hearing a number of cases. Picture: Greg Macvean

  • by GARETH ROSE
 

THE leader of the Scottish bar has warned of long term damage to Scots law by the government’s court reform programme.

James Wolffe QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, criticised plans to move the bulk of civil cases from the Court of Session to the cheaper Sheriff Court, while giving evidence to the justice committee.

And leading sheriffs, who support the proposals, admitted their courts are already full to bursting, with many already expected to become busier as others close.

Mr Wolffe said the evolution of Scots law depends on the country’s highest court hearing a number of cases.

He told the committee: “In the long run our legal system depends on a body of case law coming through the courts for the courts to decide.

“If we create a system where the Court of Session is not hearing a significant volume of difficult cases to develop the law then, in the long run, the law will be the poorer.”

The Scottish Government proposes to raise the threshold where cases can go to the Court of Session from £5,000 to £150,000.

The Faculty of Advocates has long been a critic of the reforms, claiming it will put “ordinary” Scots at a disadvantage against large firms, such as insurers, with deep pockets.

The Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and the Educational Institute of Scotland, the largest teaching union, have also raised concerns.

While the Sheriffs Association welcomed the proposals, it is concerned about whether it will have the resources and buildings to see so many cases without creating a backlog.

Sheriff Lindsay Wood told the committee: “We do have concerns about courts closing, whether other courts can absorb that and pushing back dates and getting access to justice.”

Sheriff Gordon Liddle added: “At the moment we’re running on pretty much full.

“If (a specialist) personal injury court were to come to Edinburgh Sheriff Court it’s hard to see how that could be accommodated and may have to go elsewhere.”

The Scottish Government is closing 17 courts across Scotland in the hope of saving £3 million up front and £1m a year afterwards.

 

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