SMALL businesses have welcomed proposals to make debt recovery quicker and cheaper in the hope that it will prevent big firms using them as a source of “free credit with impunity”.
Civil cases up to £150,000 will be dealt with by the Sheriff Court if the new Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill is approved by MSPs.
The Bill is designed to reduce costs and delays for litigants, who currently have to take civil cases over £5,000 to the costly Court of Session for resolution.
The publication of the Bill today follows the recommendations of Lord Gill, lord president of the Court of Session, who described Scotland’s courts as “slow, inefficient and expensive”.
Colin Borland, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “Pursuing a debt through the courts can be a prohibitively lengthy, uncertain and expensive slog for a small business.
“Many larger companies know this and use their small suppliers as free credit with impunity. Figures published at the end of last month show that more than half of our members were paid late by their big customers last year.
“It therefore makes perfect sense for all cases with a value of up to £150,000 to be dealt with at the Sheriff Court - not shunted off to the costly High Court.”
The Bill will also see the creation of a new national personal injury sheriff court and a national sheriff appeal court to deal with summary criminal appeals from sheriff and justice of the peace courts, and civil appeals from sheriff courts.
A new “summary sheriff” will be appointed to resolve lower value civil cases such as debt cases more swiftly and efficiently, while also dealing with summary criminal cases.
Family, housing, personal injury and commercial law will also be assigned to specialist sheriffs.
Lord Gill said: “Delay and cost have been the bane of Scottish justice for decades. These reforms will enable the courts to deliver the quality of justice to which the public is entitled.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “As highlighted by Lord Gill, our civil justice courts have remained relatively unchanged for more than a generation and need to be made more effective and efficient.
“This Bill takes forward our commitment to ensure that Scotland’s civil justice system becomes more accessible, affordable and efficient for those people who need to resolve civil disputes.
“At present many lower value personal injury cases are raised in the Court of Session costing the parties a disproportionate amount and clogging up the court. In future, most of these cases will be able to be raised in the specialist personal injury court with specialist sheriffs and procedures designed to achieve settlement swiftly and at a proportionate cost to the parties.
“The sheriff courts are well placed to handle this transfer as the total cases coming out of the Court of Session is only around 3% of the civil caseload in the sheriff courts.
“Our reforms will help us ensure that the right cases are heard in the right places - reducing delays, cost and bureaucracy. They will also offer clearer routes to justice and more specialisation for a range of cases, from personal injury cases to family law.”