02 April 2020
This note provides an overview of the practical implications of Covid 19 as it relates to civil business before the Scottish Courts. This note is up to date as at: 2 April 2020
Sheriff Courts in Scotland
The six Sheriffdoms in Scotland are operating on a reduced and consolidated scale. The Courts which shall remain open are at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Falkirk, Inverness, Aberdeen, Paisley, Kilmarnock, Hamilton and Dumfries. These Courts shall be dealing with business from other Courts in their respective Sheriffdoms.
Civil business without witnesses will continue where possible. All hearings where witnesses are required will be adjourned. Where parties agree, a hearing may proceed on written submissions or via telephone or video conferencing where possible. Motions and ancillary business will be dealt with electronically where possible. Documents due to be lodged may be posted to the offices or left at reception or public counters. Electronic submission of documents will be accepted where competent
The All Scotland Personal Injury Court
This Court is operating within significant restraints and is only dealing with urgent business. All hearings (proofs and debates) due to take place up to and including 19 June 2020 will be discharged of the Court’s accord and those cases sisted (paused). There is no indication of when the discharged hearings will be re-integrated into the Court’s programme. This is likely to depend on how long the current emergency lasts.
On a practical level, only urgent motions should be lodged and an opposed motion will only be dealt with if the Court is satisfied that it is urgent. If so, it will be heard by way of telephone conference and / or written submissions.
The court is accepting documents being lodged by email and is accepting PDF copies of Initial Writs. For other documents which require a wet signature, an electronic scanned signature is now acceptable. However, productions should not be lodged. These should be intimated between the parties and the cover sheet of the Inventory lodged, with the hard copy productions being lodged at a later date.
Sheriff Appeal Court
All scheduled Sheriff Appeal Court civil business, up to and including 29 May 2020, whether procedural or substantive appeal business has been discharged. Those cases are now sisted, unless parties have otherwise been informed by Sheriff Appeal Court.
The requirement for wet signatures on any document to be lodged with the Sheriff Appeal Court has been suspended and all documents may be lodged electronically. Henceforth, all new notes of appeal or notes of argument should be lodged by email with the Court and the document will be deemed to have been lodged with the Court on the date when the e-mail with the document is received.
For all new appeals, on receipt of the note of appeal, the appeal will be sisted unless a procedural Appeal Sheriff considers it to be urgent.
The Court of Session
The Court of Session recently issued guidance discharging all evidential hearings (proofs) up until and including the end of April 2020, except for in exceptional circumstance where a Lord Ordinary agrees that such a hearing may proceed.
It is only essential business which is being dealt with by the Court. Essential business is defined as child abduction petitions; applications for interim interdict or other urgent business, on cause shown.
Civil damages actions are highly unlikely to fall within the criteria for other urgent business unless there are exceptional circumstances. For example, in a mesothelioma case to take the evidence of a dying pursuer on commission, or something similarly time critical.
Standing the rules on social distancing, the Court’s administrative body is, by necessity, operating a skeleton staff. However, new cases which would timebar or prescribe before 20 April 2020 can be emailed to a specific Court email address. Those actions will be processed and registered with any required orders by the court emailed to parties. Defenders can and have been accepting service of new Summonses electronically on an understanding that they will endorse the hard copy Summons with the date service was electronically served in due course.
In personal injury actions which have not been sisted, (i.e. those cases where the proof is in May onwards) it is important to note that the timetable remains live and the proofs in those cases have not been discharged. The timetable deadlines must be met and documents lodged by email to a specific court email address. Principal productions themselves should not be lodged, only the cover sheet Inventory of those productions. For Court forms / documents which require a wet signature, a scanned electronic signature will be acceptable.
In terms of Inner House business (civil appeal court). all non-essential hearings have been cancelled. Parties have been encouraged to discuss cases and the court is providing parties with an opportunity to lodge written submissions in place of an oral hearing. Otherwise, the oral hearing will be rescheduled for dates to be confirmed. For cases approaching appeal deadlines etc, these can be emailed to the court’s urgent business email address and will be deemed to have been lodged on the date the email was sent.
These are uncertain times for clients and practitioners. The guidance being issued by the Scottish Courts in Scotland is under constant review and may be subject to change. BTO will keep you and your business updated on key developments and it is intended to update this guidance note when a substantive change in practice occurs.
For more information, please contact Mark Hastings, Senior Associate by email email@example.com, telephone, 0141 225 5293, or get in touch with your usual contact at BTO.