Sheriff Courts Business Update

Jun 01, 2020
We are beginning to reopen our courts and tribunals buildings this week, in line with the Scottish Government Covid-19 move into Phase 1 of their Route map.

Eric McQueen Chief Executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals said:  “I appreciate we are a long way from a new business as usual; social distancing requirements will be with us for some time, and reduce our building and physical hearing capacity by two thirds. The emphasis therefore has to be on maximising digital and remote business solutions, reducing the number of people in any court and tribunals building.

This will be challenging for us all and we are all learning. In these last weeks remarkable progress has been made and we need to make that sustainable, as ultimately digital solutions will lie at the heart of our courts and tribunals system. 

To ensure the safety of all staff, judiciary and courts users, extensive risk assessments have taken place in every building, with measures now in place to ensure that strict social distancing and the highest hygiene standards are achieved. We ask for everyone’s cooperation to make this a reality.   

We have been working with the Sheriffs Principal to increase the scope of our business and services, with safety being our key priority. This week we are introducing staff and sheriffs to closed courts to bring as much business up to date as possible and to prepare courts for the re-introduction of business from week commencing 15 June."


Summary Criminal business

The Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, has today issued a Practice Note on the re-introduction of summary criminal business. 

Custodies are currently being dealt with by the 10 “Hub” courts and from Wednesday 3 June a further five custody courts will be introduced at Livingston, Kirkcaldy, Greenock, Dumbarton and Airdrie. This will provide extra capacity to ensure that the increasing level of custody cases can be dealt with safely and efficiently. 

Our courts will continue to be closed to the public for some time and wherever possible we will aim to carry out hearings remotely or through application in writing. The facility  to allow Solicitors to represent clients remotely without attending court continues and we encourage all solicitors to make best advantage of this.  

Similarly the guidance to resolve cases at the earliest opportunity by facilitating pleas of guilty remains in place. 

With the exception of custody courts, which will remain at the 15 Hub courts, all business will move back to their own courts from week commencing 15 June. Custody trials will remain a priority and where practicable, non-custody trial courts will also be programmed to allow the acceleration of cases administratively adjourned during lockdown. All undertakings will attend local courts. 

Intermediate diets will be dealt with at all courts and will proceed administratively on the basis of written records, provided electronically by the Crown and defence.  The accused will not be required to attend, unless the court directs otherwise. Trials following on from these diets will call on the previously assigned date. Where a trial cannot proceed on the original date, a new date will be fixed and intimated. 

Virtual Summary Trials will be conducted in Aberdeen and Inverness Sheriff Courts next week.  These will support future arrangements for summary trials being conducted remotely in future. See  Practice Note 1

Further guidance and orders will be issued by Sheriffs Principal specifying how cited courts will recommence in each Sheriffdom.


Civil Business

For civil business a three-stage approach will be followed for all cases except summary cause actions for the recovery of heritable property.

Phase 1 – current

We will continue to build on the civil business that has already restarted through the Hub courts, the developments with the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court (ASSPIC) and the Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC) which will have its first three bench virtual appeal this week.

 Alongside this the main focus will be on the backlog of casework submitted during the lockdown. Undefended actions, cases which have resolved by way of joint minute, unopposed motions, pending extract decrees and simplified divorces should be given priority. Other work such as initial writs, simple procedure and summary cause registrations will be processed as part of the backlog.

Urgent business will continue to be dealt with via Hub courts with Civil Restart Applications and commissary being dealt with at local courts.  

Phase 2 – (no earlier than 15 June 2020)

Non-urgent new civil business, lodged after Phase 1, will now be processed, with the exception of new simple procedure claims and summary cause actions for the recovery of heritable property. 

All documents should as far as possible be submitted electronically.

All existing civil actions that were administratively discharged, adjourned, continued, sisted or paused during the lockdown  will be case managed to regulate further procedure, however it is unlikely that evidential  hearings will be assigned during this phase.

Procedural and substantive hearings which do not require evidence to be led will be conducted remotely. In the few cases where evidence is necessary and the hearing cannot be held remotely witnesses will attend court and will require to adhere to strict physical distancing arrangements. Cases involving children will be given priority.

The urgent civil applications (via Hub courts) and restart application processes will cease at this point.

Phase 3 (no earlier than 30 July 2020)

New simple procedure actions can be lodged electronically only, via civil online (unless in exceptional circumstances and on cause shown).

Further procedure in actions for the recovery of heritable property will be progressed. 

Small Estate interviews for commissary business will be able to take place remotely.

Further information

Further details and arrangements are included in Practice Notes which will be issued shortly for each Sheriffdom. Please note the phasing is entirely dependent on the progress of Scottish Government’s route map in the coming weeks. Updates will be provided via the SCTS website and Twitter @SCTScourttribs.



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