Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains ‘Victorian’, untrustworthy, costly & still controlled by vested legal interests

24 Aug

Lord GillLord Gill’s Civil Courts Review published in 2009 recommended significant reforms to Scots justice system. THE CIVIL COURTS REVIEW, the two year review undertaken by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill which recommended significant, wide ranging reforms to Scotland’s antiquated Civil Justice system, is about to face its first anniversary since publication. However, a year on since the report was launched amid a blaze of publicity, there is little to show by way of reforms to the justice system, which Lord Gill himself branded “Victorian”, failing to deliver efficiency of justice or Scots accessibility of justice.

Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society.”

He continued : “It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost.”

“Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice.”

“Unless there is major reform and soon, individual litigants will be prevented from securing their rights, commercial litigants will continue to look elsewhere for a forum for their claims, public confidence in the judicial system will be further eroded, Scotland’s economic development will be hindered, and Scots law will atrophy as an independent legal system.”

Here we are at the end of August 2010, and sadly little has changed.

Lord Gill’s definition of “major reform and soon” must have translated badly to the Scottish Government & Parliament, falling on the traditionally deaf ears of Scots politicians and the legal establishment, ever keen to ensure ‘access to justice’ remains a money making empire for the legal profession, rather than actually affording the right of access to justice to all Scots in our own country.

Readers can download the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links :

Of course, it must be pointed out one notable success since the Civil Courts Review was published last September, is the partial implementation of McKenzie Friends for Scotland, so far introduced to the Court of Session and soon to be introduced to all Sheriff Courts in Scotland.

McKenzie Friends for ScotlandMcKenzie Friends for Scotland were only forced through to implementation after Holyrood Petition & November 2009 court ruling. However, the introduction of McKenzie Friends would probably not even have occurred had it not been for two key developments since Lord Gill made his recommendation to introduce the internationally acclaimed lay courtroom helper, where Petition 1247 filed at the Scottish Parliament by Stewart MacKenzie gained significant support & public exposure, effectively forcing the entire issue of lay assistance into the public spotlight, aided by Lord Woolman’s November 2009 ruling in the case of M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01), which overtook the slow pace of events at Holyrood and introduced Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in the Court of Session.

We are now left with the majority of Lord Gill’s recommendations still to be implemented, as the likes of the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates seek ways to ensure implementation of the Civil Courts Review’s aim of ‘wider, more efficient access to justice for all Scots’ also equates to pounds in the pockets of solicitors & advocates, rather than heaven forbid, reforming the justice system to the point that most people do not need to run up huge bills with law firms for litigation which could be heard and judged upon in a much speedier, consumer friendly updated civil justice system which the Civil Courts Review recommended.

Indeed, it was the Faculty of Advocates who effectively began the official ‘talking down’ of the Civil Courts Review, as I reported earlier, here : Process of ‘watering down’ Lord Gill’s civil courts reforms begins as Faculty of Advocates question public benefit, costs of access to justice changes

Readers should also note the Scottish Parliament’s debate on Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review was much less than an assurance the rights of ordinary Scots to justice would be put before the interests of the legal establishment, as I reported earlier, here : Holyrood debate reveals civil justice reforms & McKenzie Friends may be a long way off as Scottish Ministers stumble over Lord Gill review proposals

richard keen qcDean of Faculty supported calls for Class Actions in early 2009, yet over a year on nothing has happened. One example of the malaise which has hit the Civil Courts Review is that of the introduction of Class Actions to the Scottish justice system, an idea once supported by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Richard Keen QC, as an idea to take on the big banks. However, since Mr Keen’s call to allow class actions against banks was featured in the Scotsman newspaper in January 2009, the banks have of course, recovered somewhat from their weak bargaining positions of early 2009, and, with a little cash injection of extra sponsorship of events held by the Scottish legal profession, calls for the introduction of class actions since early 2009 have been all but silenced by, what many would term ‘hush money’.

October 2009 : Shirley Anne Somerville MSP speaks on the merits of introducing Class Actions to Scotland, yet one year on, not a hint anything on Class Actions will happen soon.

Debating chamberHolyrood goes slow on justice reforms, so Scots must give their views, campaign for wider access to justice to be implemented sooner rather than later. While Scots wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for the Scottish Government & Parliament to actually do something and ensure the many reforms of the Civil Courts Review are implemented, hopefully sometime before the next election, instead of sometime in the next 500 years, readers can also give their input into the Civil Justice Advisory Group, who have launched their own consultation on the best way forward for implementing the many recommendations made by Lord Gill’s report, an issue I reported on in early August, here : Consumers urged to give their views as Civil Justice Advisory Group launches consultation on key proposals of Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review

The consultation and seminar feedback will help the Group in formulating a detailed report to the Scottish Government on how it should take forward some of the recommendations of the Scottish civil courts review report.

The consultation paper can be accessed by clicking here : Civil Justice Consultation Response Paper (pdf)

Responses to the consultation should be submitted to Consumer Focus Scotland before 24th September 2010 by email to : or via the online response form

By post to :
Civil Justice Advisory Group Consultation
Consumer Focus Scotland
Royal Exchange House
100 Queen Street
G1 3DN

I would urge as many readers as possible to take part in this consultation, for the benefit of yourself and all Scots who need access to a fairer, much improved Civil Justice system in our own land. Access to justice for one, access to justice for all !


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2 responses to “Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains ‘Victorian’, untrustworthy, costly & still controlled by vested legal interests

  1. Gavin Ward (WardblawG)

    August 24, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Expertly written as usual. All it will take is for a few judges to get a computer, sign up to twitter and we’re cracking.

    Gavin Ward
    WardblawG Limited

  2. petercherbi

    August 24, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    … Twitter & [Scottish] judges ….Their Lordships will have to learn to cope with typing meaningful, profound statements in 140 characters or less !


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