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Civil Justice Advisory Group call for radical reform of Scotland’s civil justice system, says people should be at the heart of Scottish civil justice

19 Jan

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland’s Civil Justice Advisory group publishes its report on civil justice reform. SCOTLAND’s “Victorian” civil justice system came in for yet more criticism today as the Civil Justice Advisory Group, reconvened in January 2010 by Consumer Focus Scotland under the chairmanship of Lord Coulsfield with a remit to consider the proposals of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, led by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, published its report and called for a radical rethink on how the civil justice system in Scotland can be reformed to make it more fit for purpose & user friendly.

In today’s report the Civil Justice Advisory Group proposes that the focus should be on creating a civil justice system designed around the people who use it, addressing the various needs that users have at each stage in resolving their disputes, to ensure that these are resolved in the most effective way as early as possible.

“Ensuring effective access to appropriate and affordable dispute resolution”, the Final Report of the Civil Justice Advisory Group (pdf), published by Consumer Focus Scotland, makes a series of recommendations that include:

* The development of a ‘triage’ approach to civil justice problems, aiming to ensure that users are directed to the most appropriate pathway for the resolution of their problem.

* The creation of a web-based system bringing together information on rights, responsibilities, sources of help, and advice and options for dispute resolution.

* Funding should be made available to pilot more proactive public legal education initiatives to build legal capability amongst particular groups.

* The introduction of new court rules to encourage, but not compel, parties to seek to resolve their dispute by mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution, prior to going to court.

* A mediation scheme should be available which could be accessed before a court action is raised, as well as being available to the court.

* The need for a clear separation between civil and criminal business in the third-tier of civil jurisdiction proposed by the Gill review.

* The third-tier should operate within a simplified process, with plain English, user-friendly rules, and clear, simple forms. Efforts should also be made to ensure the culture of the third-tier is not intimidating for litigants.

* The establishment of a specialist jurisdiction to deal with housing cases.

* The Scottish Government to review the way in which family cases are dealt with, including the rules and procedures which should apply.

* National roll out of in court advice services, although these should not necessarily be based within individual courts.

The report also calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that the full range of relevant interests should be given the opportunity to provide sufficient input to future civil justice reform. It will now be submitted to the Scottish Government to support its implementation of the Gill review proposals on civil justice.

Lord Coulsfield said the Group’s aim is to make the civil legal process more effective and efficient as well as easier for its users: “I hope that we have made suggestions which will contribute to the creation of a system which will encourage the resolution of disputes by agreement wherever possible, but also provide for an unintimidating and accessible and efficient court procedure where agreement cannot be reached.”

Lord Coulsfield continued : “Our intention was, through taking a broader look at the experience of people who need the help of the civil justice system, to make recommendations that will spare those who do not need to go to court from having to do so, and reduce the stress for those who do.”

Welcoming the report, Scotland’s Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing MSP, said the Group is putting forward an important set of options: “Scotland’s civil justice system must be open to all who need it and has to offer support that is neither too slow nor too intimidating for users.”

Mr Ewing continued : “I would like to thank the Civil Justice Advisory Group under Lord Coulsfield for their work. They have given us a series of very helpful recommendations for future reform, which we shall now consider as part of our approach to reforming the wider civil justice system.”

The Civil Justice Advisory Group was first established in 2004 by the Scottish Consumer Council, one of Consumer Focus Scotland’s predecessor organisations. It published its report Civil Justice in Scotland: A Case for Review? (available as a PDF by clicking here) in November 2005, and four of the six recommendations of this report were incorporated in the remit of the Scottish civil courts review. The Civil Justice Advisory Group was re-established in January 2010 to consider some of the key proposals of the Scottish civil courts review.

In addition to Lord Coulsfield who chairs the Group, its membership includes representatives from the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Court Service, Consumer Focus Scotland, Citizens’ Advice Scotland, Scottish Legal Aid Board, Scottish Association of Law Centres, Scottish Mediation Network, Scottish Committee of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, as well as Professor Alan Paterson from the University of Strathclyde.

The full report “Ensuring effective access to appropriate and affordable dispute resolution – The Final Report of the Civil Justice Advisory Group” can be downloaded HERE (pdf). A summary of the final report can be downloaded HERE (pdf).

I have previously reported on the Civil Justice Advisory Group’s consultation and its activities, HERE

As Consumer Focus have said today, people should be put first and at the heart of Scotland’s civil justice system, and no effort should be spared to ensure all Scots have access to justice, an access which comes as a right, at a reasonable cost which all can afford, and free of the obstructions of vested professional interests whose aims are more often than not to stifle or defeat the aims of justice and the individual’s access to justice out of financial motives, or protection of those who use the law as nothing more than a business model to control who among us gains access to the courts.

BACKGROUND TO CIVIL JUSTICE REFORM IN SCOTLAND

Lord Gill Lord Justice ClerkThe Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, author of the Civil Courts Review. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, reproduced in full here 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. 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.”

Readers can find out more & download a copy of the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links :

My coverage of the Civil Courts Review from its publication to the present, and the pace of reforms to civil justice in Scotland can be found here : Civil Courts Review – The story so far.

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