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The new simplified procedure rules

You may be aware of the old-style Small Claims cases, for which Legal Aid was not available. After existing for 23 years these will disappear now from the courts for all cases raised after 1st November 2016. As of then they are no longer Small Claims but proceed under “simple procedure”, and the limit for these cases will go up to £5000. This means that if you are raising or defending a claim for money of under that amount, the simplified procedure is likely to apply. The system is designed much more for the electronic era.


The good news is that simple procedure is the start of a journey to online processing in civil courts and will be offered through an online portal currently being developed by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. Initially, the new simple procedure will make online processing available for most payment actions up to £5000 and an online portal will enable the legal profession and the public to start actions, submit case documents, pay fees and track progress online. It is planned to extend this to all areas of simple procedure by mid-2017, allowing over 60% of all civil business in the sheriff courts to be processed online.

The idea appears to be that anyone with a reasonable understanding of court procedure should be able to draft the basic forms, although it may still be in your interests to have these checked by a lawyer before submission. The Rules have been agreed and are available online - You’ll see that the Rules themselves are virtually all in the Schedule, that they are designed to be understood by non-legally qualified persons, and that lay representation is permitted, as are supporters in court, although they may only offer moral support and take notes, and may not speak to the court on behalf of a party.

The big difference at the start of the case is that the initial hearing is in private and the sheriff can decide a case based on the papers alone (Rule 7.6), arrange a case management discussion or can order it to go to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Also now the sists with which the courts have been familiar for many years become “pauses” and must be recalled administratively by the Clerk of Court fixing a fresh hearing after six months, so people will need to become used to settling cases fairly quickly. The remainder of the procedure is similar to the present, so the rules on producing lists of documents and witnesses before the full hearing are still in the new procedure, although the new rules make special provision for child witnesses and vulnerable witnesses.

Our suspicion at the moment, looking at the rules as a whole, is that only about 20% (if that) of cases will go to an evidential hearing, so our advice to you will be tailored much more to the particular circumstances of your case, and in particular whether other options might be preferable to having a hearing with witnesses in attendance.

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For more information about raising or defending a claim in court, contact our court department today.

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