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Government maintains 'open mind' on civil court changes

Government maintains 'open mind' on civil court changes

Ministers are considering diluting proposed changes to the civil courts system.

Appearing before the Justice Committee this morning, Minister for Legal Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham, left the door open to lowering the threshold for cases moving to the Court of Session.

Under the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill, the threshold for cases to be heard in the Court of Session is to be raised from £5,000 being sued for to £150,000.

The reform would see a significant transfer of business from the Court of Session to the sheriff courts – a shift of around 2,700 cases, equivalent to more than half of Court of Session business.

However, questions have arisen over the extent of the hike. The Faculty of Advocates has said the proposed value is “far too high”, while the Law Society of Scotland insisted it should not exceed £50,000.

Cunningham said: “We’ve chosen that as looking like the most sensible in terms of volume and complexity. But if you’re asking me would I die in a ditch for £150,000, well I am listening to everybody, having conversations with people, and we will continue to look at that through the process of this Bill.

“I would be interested in the committee’s views at Stage 1 as well in terms of where they think it could better be fixed, and we will look at all [of] that. I am keeping as open a mind as I can on that limit.”

Cunningham said she had a “less open mind” to phasing in introduction of a threshold in stages given a specialist personal injury court is also being established.

She added: “One of the difficulties is if you start to phase in then you’re giving a much more faltering and slow start to that personal injury court as well.

“It would have that knock-on effect of, in a sense, holding back that court from developing the expertise and the ability as they otherwise could.”

The SNP minister was speaking in the wake of concerns being raised that court fees could rise as a result of the reforms being proposed.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has warned of a £1million shortfall in annual income under the changes amid fears that fees will be increased to cover the gap.

A decision on court fees remains one for the Scottish Court Service, though Cunningham expressed doubts that these would suddenly increase significantly.

She said the Scottish Government has no intention of increasing fees for raising an action.

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