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New legislation to bring about the biggest modernisation of Scotland’s courts in a generation has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill includes recommendations made by Lord Gill as part of the Scottish Civil Courts Review to improve the structure and operation of the courts, which were described as “slow, inefficient and expensive.”

The reforms will change the procedures and processes in Scotland’s courts and include:

  • Raising the exclusive competence of the sheriff court to £100,000
  • Introducing summary sheriffs to deal with some types of criminal and civil cases in the sheriff courts
  • Establishing a Sheriff Appeal Court

“Our courts have remained relatively unchanged for decades but this new legislation will bring about the most important change for Scottish courts for more than a generation,” commented Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill.

“This is a hugely important step forward in making Scotland’s civil justice system more accessible, affordable and efficient for those people who need to resolve civil disputes,” he added.

The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the reforms, but also expressed concern that the new legislation could affect access to justice and lead to delays.

“This Bill is a major step forward in civil court reform and we recognise that the current system is long overdue for such reform,” said Kim Leslie, convener to the Law Society of Scotland’s Civil Justice Committee.

“We do however still have real concerns about how the courts are going to resource some of the other changes, such as the change in the jurisdiction limit,” she explained. “This will have the knock on effect of hugely increasing the number of cases going through the sheriff courts, where previously they would have been raised in the Court of Session.”

“Along with the programme of court closures that is currently underway, the pressure on the system is likely to lead to delays, and members of the public who use the courts will have to wait longer for judgements,” she added.

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